4 MINNESOTA VIKINGS

September 04, 2011

The Donovan McNabb gamble could pay off big—or go bust

The Vikings are the NFL's cover-their-bets team of 2011. Three months after using the No. 12 pick to draft Florida State's Christian Ponder, their quarterback of 2015 (and maybe much sooner), they traded for their quarterback of September 2011 (and maybe much longer), Donovan McNabb. Now the drama unfolds—McNabb trying to regain his playoff form after the nightmare that was his 2010 season with the Redskins; Ponder trying to learn from McNabb, then hasten his retirement.

At training camp in Mankato, Minn., owner Zygi Wilf schmoozed with Betty McCollum, the congresswoman from the suburban Minneapolis district where Wilf is attempting to get a new stadium deal. Then the Vikes arranged for McNabb to meet McCollum, and they chatted amiably. Afterward one of the team's p.r. men, Tom West, explained the stadium project to the quarterback, including naming options for the stadium. "How about the House That Donovan Built?" McNabb said with a laugh.

You never know. After being wedded to Brett Favre for two years—for better in 2009 and for worse in 2010—Minnesota is still following the Packers' lead at quarterback, but in another way. The Vikings watched Aaron Rodgers sit behind Favre for three years and develop his game under a strong offensive coach, Mike McCarthy. In a perfect world McNabb, who turns 35 in November, would be reborn under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and allow Ponder from one to three postgrad years to watch and learn. "It worked out well for Aaron," Ponder says. "Maybe it can work out for me. If we're playing well, I'm all for it. I know it's definitely better for the team to have a veteran in there now."

Coach Leslie Frazier pushed hard for the McNabb trade, which sent a sixth-round pick in 2012 and a conditional sixth-rounder in '13 to the Redskins. "Everyone in this game goes through a tough season," McNabb says. "This is the time for me to bounce back with an offense I like through a door the Vikings have been good enough to open for me. I'm looking forward to knocking that door down."

You might ask: Why would Frazier, the former defensive coordinator who took over for Brad Childress with six games left last season, have an easier time with McNabb than Mike Shanahan did in Washington? A couple of reasons: Frazier remembers the old McNabb; he was the Eagles' secondary coach in McNabb's first four years, when McNabb was soaking up Andy Reid's quarterback lessons. Frazier saw everything good about McNabb—the hard work, the extra film sessions, the leadership. What he didn't see was the friendly but ultimately uncooperative McNabb who bombed last year. McNabb hasn't discussed the story about his refusing to wear a wristband to streamline the Redskins' play-calling; an NFL source says that if it happened, it's because McNabb didn't want to appear to need a crutch in running a new offense. But Frazier understands McNabb well enough to know he can get results without pushing a proud man to do something he'd abhor. Frazier also thinks Musgrave can tailor an offense to take advantage of McNabb's strong downfield arm and his ability to move in the pocket and make plays quickly.

Still, with top wideout Sidney Rice gone, McNabb's options are limited. Deep threat Percy Harvin's two seasons have been stop-and-start due to migraines (a problem he now says he has under control). After that there's a bunch of Bernard Berrians and Greg Camarillos, guys who are going to have to be made better by their QB.

Frazier will give McNabb plenty of leeway, and the plan is for him to play the season and see how it goes. At the very least the double-barreled quarterback strategy will make constructing future rosters much easier. "Next year we're not going to be sitting in the draft room picking 21st in the first round and saying, 'We've got to get a quarterback,' and we can't get one," Frazier says. "We've got that position secure, and it's a great feeling after how unsettled it's been at times."

"I'm happy to have Donovan here," says veteran middle linebacker E.J. Henderson. "We've got a guy who's seen every defense, who's been through turmoil, who's a rock. We're going to need that this year."

PROJECTED LINEUP

WITH 2010 STATS

OFFENSE

2010 Rank: 23

QB DONOVAN MCNABB

ATT 472

COMP 275

PCT 58.3

YARDS 3,377

YD/ATT 7.2

TD 14

INT 15

RATING 77.1

RB ADRIAN PETERSON

ATT 283

YARDS 1,298

REC 36

TTD 13

FB RYAN D'IMPERIO

ATT 0

YARDS 0

REC 0

TTD 0

WR PERCY HARVIN

REC 71

YARDS 868

AVG 12.2

TTD 7

WR BERNARD BERRIAN

REC 28

YARDS 252

AVG 9.0

TTD 0

TE VISANTHE SHIANCOE

REC 47

YARDS 530

AVG 11.3

TTD 2

LT CHARLIE JOHNSON

G 15

SACKS 4½

HOLD 0

FALSE 0

LG STEVE HUTCHINSON

G 11

SACKS 2

HOLD 0

FALSE 1

C JOHN SULLIVAN

G 14

SACKS 3½

HOLD 0

FALSE 0

RG ANTHONY HERRERA

G 10

SACKS 4

HOLD 1

FALSE 0

RT PHIL LOADHOLT

G 16

SACKS 3

HOLD 2

FALSE 7

RB TOBY GERHART

ATT 81

YARDS 322

REC 21

TTD 1

WR MICHAEL JENKINS

REC 41

YARDS 505

AVG 12.3

TTD 2

DEFENSE

2010 Rank: 8

DE BRIAN ROBISON

TACKLES 15

SACKS 2

INT 0

DT REMI AYODELE

TACKLES 37

SACKS 1

INT 0

DT KEVIN WILLIAMS

TACKLES 39

SACKS 1

INT 0

DE JARED ALLEN

TACKLES 60

SACKS 11

INT 2

LB ERIN HENDERSON

TACKLES 7

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB E.J. HENDERSON

TACKLES 105

SACKS 1

INT 3

LB CHAD GREENWAY

TACKLES 144

SACKS 1

INT 0

CB ANTOINE WINFIELD

TACKLES 91

SACKS 2

INT 2

SS HUSAIN ABDULLAH

TACKLES 75

SACKS 0

INT 3

FS TYRELL JOHNSON

TACKLES 7

SACKS 0

INT 0

CB CEDRIC GRIFFIN

TACKLES 8

SACKS 0

INT 0

DB CHRIS COOK

TACKLES 21

SACKS 0

INT 0

SPECIALISTS

K RYAN LONGWELL

FG 17

FGA 18

XP 30

PTS 81

P CHRIS KLUWE

PUNTS 83

GROSS 43.0

NET 38.9

BOLD: Projected starter

Italics:New acquisition

TTD: Total touchdowns

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

SACKS: Sacks allowed

HOLD: Holding penalties

FALSE: False starts

2011 SCHEDULE

2010 RECORD: 6--10

September

11 at San Diego

18 Tampa Bay

25 Detroit

October

2 at Kansas City

9 Arizona

16 at Chicago

23 Green Bay

30 at Carolina

November

6 BYE

14 at Green Bay (Mon)

20 Oakland

27 at Atlanta

December

4 Denver

11 at Detroit

18 New Orleans

24 at Washington (Sat)

January

1 Chicago

COACH: LESLIE FRAZIER

AGE: 52

FIRST FULL SEASON WITH THE VIKINGS (3--3 IN '10)

When Tony Dungy flirted with taking over as president of the Seahawks late in 2009, he already knew his first choice as coach: Frazier, who worked under Dungy in Indianapolis in 2005 and '06. They're as similar as two football men can be: former defensive backs who believe in a cover-first D, players' coaches who are also patient and strict enough to take on projects.

SPOTLIGHT

KYLE RUDOLPH, Tight end

Donovan McNabb puts it this way: "Kyle Rudolph is Brent Celek." Considering that Celek caught 76 for the Eagles in 2009, when McNabb was there, that's high praise for the Vikings' 2011 second-rounder. But Celek and Rudolph are similar: Both are Cincinnati-born, both weigh around 260 pounds, both have excellent hands—and neither is very fast. Unlike Celek, though, Rudolph has never been a go-to receiver; at Notre Dame last fall he had just 28 receptions for an offense in transition.

He's coming to another team in flux. On the offensive line, shaky Colts import Charlie Johnson replaces the departed Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, and third-year man Phil Loadholt has yet to prove himself at right tackle. The Vikings also lost their most dangerous wideout, Sidney Rice, to free agency. During training camp McNabb worked almost equally with veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and with Rudolph, because he'll need both. He isn't going to have all day to throw—and having two strong pass-catching tight ends will allow him to work shorter routes. Rudolph already appears to be the kind of bumper-car receiver who can break a tackle in the middle of the field and rumble for extra yards. Minnesota will need that to make up for its lack of a top-tier receiver who can draw the attention of opposing defenses.

PHOTOGREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES (FRAZIER) PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (MCNABB)GIMME FIVE The Vikes are confident McNabb can recapture the magic of his best seasons in Philadelphia—and they're prepared in case that doesn't happen. PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (RUDOLPH)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)