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Thursday, August 4, 2011
Vikings: Smooth start for Donovan McNabb

By Kevin Seifert

MANKATO, Minn. -- Donovan McNabb sat through four practices this week. Then he watched for another 37 minutes Thursday afternoon before finally getting the all-clear to jump into drills. At 4:03 p.m. local, McNabb took his first snap from center John Sullivan. At 4:07 p.m., he lined up for his first 11-on-11 series.

Receiver Bernard Berrian sprinted down the left sideline. McNabb watched him the whole way, drawing on what we later learned were some throwing sessions he had with Berrian and others this week at a local high school. Berrian got a step on cornerback Cedric Griffin, and McNabb dropped a deep pass into his hands in stride for a 60-yard touchdown.

Donovan McNabb
Donovan McNabb could finally take the practice field after the CBA was ratified.
We all had our theories on how McNabb would practice after a whirlwind week that saw him traded to the Vikings, thrust into an unfamiliar offensive system and forced immediately into a leadership role -- all while knowing the Vikings' No. 1 draft choice is in hot pursuit of his job. Given the circumstances Thursday, McNabb proved more than competent and was nowhere close to the top of the team's concerns.

(That trophy goes to the left tackle position. We'll get to that in a moment.)

"Our first play we connected and just kind of started going after that," McNabb said. "For myself, [the focus] was really just to calm down. Everything's moving a mile a minute, your legs feel so fresh, your drop is extremely fast and you just have to calm down. As practice continued on, I started to get in that rhythm and relax a little bit. We still have time to work on our chemistry and timing from quarterback to receivers. This is my first day having an opportunity to throw to all the guys, so it was a good start. But we have a lot to clean up."

Let it now be said: McNabb has now devoted more practice time to Minnesota State University, Mankato, than their most recent starter did in the past two summers combined. (The math was heavily in McNabb's favor as soon as he reported Sunday afternoon.) As it turns out, McNabb organized daily outings this week for players who, like him, were ineligible to practice because of the unratified collective bargaining agreement.

That meant McNabb, Berrian, receiver Michael Jenkins and others were making regular trips to a local high school for light football work.

"I think it was something that really is going to pay off," McNabb said. "This is my first time with these guys. I'm unfamiliar with how they run routes and the speed and things of that nature so the guys who weren't able to participate in the early practices, we spent some time together, we were able to bond and now it's time for me to work with the rest of the guys and the offensive linemen so we can be on the same page."

There's no sense trying to deeply analyze and evaluate McNabb's first full practice of the summer. But if you/I/we thought he would look lost, overwhelmed, frustrated or tense, then you/I/we were wrong. From an amateur vantage point, he appeared in command of the offense. I spotted only one glaring mistake, when he pulled away from center ahead of the snap count, and he even took some good-natured ribbing from now-backup quarterback Joe Webb -- who squirted water on his head in a mock cool-down attempt after McNabb sat idle for the first portion of practice.

After a while, in fact, I stopped watching McNabb and focused on the massacre taking place at left tackle, where Jared Allen and other Vikings defenders were blowing up new left tackle Charlie Johnson. Like McNabb, Johnson was dropped unexpectedly into a new role over the past week. McNabb admitted he was disappointed when the Vikings released former starter Bryant McKinnie and said: "As a quarterback, you don't want to hear about anything like that."

I'm sure Johnson will settle in as he learns the offense, but it will be interesting to track the Vikings' transition at the two most important positions on offense. Just a few days ago, would you have guessed left tackle would be a greater early-camp concern than quarterback -- or that the following quote from coach Leslie Frazier would be about Johnson rather than McNabb?

"We've got to start somewhere," Frazier said, "and the downside is those guys didn't get a chance to go through that period where we were just in shoulder pads, not in shoulder pads, but in helmets. So he missed that from a timing standpoint but, hey, he'll catch up to the speed of the game like we all will."

In reality, the time has finally come for the Vikings -- and everyone else in the NFL -- to move past the logistical strains caused by the lockout and focus on the season in a single-minded way.

"[We're] looking forward to normalcy if there is such a thing in the National Football League," Frazier said. "Every team has gone through the same things that we've gone through this entire offseason and every team experienced what we experienced today so we're not in the minority in that regard. Right now we can put some of those things behind us and we can concentrate on getting our team prepared to play this season."

At last.