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Vikings Offense Takes Step Forward Saturday Night

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2011 – 10:28 pm

The Vikings ultimately didn’t win Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field, but the first-team offense took another step forward in their development under new coordinator Bill Musgrave.

QB Donovan McNabb was 12 of 18 for 156 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT on the night. He hit speedy WR Bernard Berrian over the top of Dallas’ defense for a 49-yard score in the 1st quarter and he found Percy Harvin four times for 29 yards in the 1st half. New WR Michael Jenkins also got in the mix during the 1st half with 2 receptions for 22 yards, including a 17-yard grab on the play right before McNabb’s interception; the interception came on a deflected pass.

While it was encouraging to see the passing game take flight against Dallas, there’s no question that the bread and butter of this offense will be the running game. Adrian Peterson took handoffs on five of the Vikings first six plays, which set up Berrian’s long TD score to cap the team’s opening drive. In total, Peterson gained 81 yards on 14 carries and looked explosive the entire night.

The performance by the Vikings first-team offensive line should not go unnoticed. The group welcomed back starting RG Anthony Herrera following his recovery from a serious knee injury that ended his 2010 season prematurely. Herrera stepped in and the rest of the line displayed improvement, as Peterson burst past the first line of the Dallas defense on multiple occasions.

“We got into a good rhythm,” RT Phil Loadholt said after the game. “We were moving guys up front, got in a good rhythm and we were able to move the ball. As an offensive line, we love it when we hear that run call. The momentum, once you start putting drives together like that, you can see it in the defense that things are going well for us. It feels good once you get that momentum.”

The Vikings first-team offense strung together drives of 83, 51, 56 and 45 yards on Saturday night, largely thanks to the protection and run blocking provided by the line. In his postgame press conference, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said he was impressed with the offensive line early in the game and he also said Herrera’s performance was encouraging. Asked if Herrera would be able to play in the regular season opener on September 11 in San Diego, Frazier said the feisty veteran had “a chance,” which is good news as Herrera comes back from that knee injury.

All in all, we’ll temper the enthusiasm because the Vikings lost the game and there were still productive drives that didn’t end with TDs. At the same time, it was encouraging to see the offensive take yet another step forward in their development. McNabb stretched the field vertically with Berrian and Jenkins, and then Harvin and Peterson did their work underneath.


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5 Things To Watch Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2011 – 10:26 am

Tonight the Vikings will play their third preseason game of the 2011 season and it’ll be against the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field. First-teamers will get extended looks tonight, which is why the third game of the preseason is considered so important.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch during tonight’s Vikings-Cowboys contest…

A TD from the first-team offense
The first-team offense took a big step forward last week in Seattle after a mediocre outing in Tennessee to open the preseason. Expect another step forward this week from Donovan McNabb and Co. It would ease a lot of souls – everyone from Vikings coaches to Vikings fans – if the first-team offense could find a way to move the ball and score a TD or two. To this point, McNabb has looked comfortable in the offense and he’s spread the ball around to a variety of receivers. Tonight, though, watch for the running game to improve a touch and for McNabb to find a way to attack vertically.

Cedric Griffin and Anthony Herrera coming back from injury
A pair of starters are coming back from serious knee injuries this season – CB Cedric Griffin and RG Anthony Herrera. Griffin has had a nice training camp and he’s looked good in the little time he’s seen on the field. Tonight, though, he’ll likely get his first extended action since the injury and the Vikings will be focused not only on how he performs during the game but how his knee feels after the game. With Herrera, he’s slowly been brought along during training camp and tonight is the first time he’ll play in a game at all since the injury. Just as is the case with Griffin, it will be as important how Herrera feels after the game as how he plays during the game. Head Coach Leslie Frazier said earlier this week that the one thing the coaches will be looking for is Herrera’s explosion coming off the ball. If he can show signs of regaining that explosion and he can come away from the game with minimal soreness, then the feisty veteran will be one (major) step closer to returning to the starting lineup.

Pressure on Cowboys QB Tony Romo
One of the positives I took away from the Vikings performance last week in Seattle was the pass rush from the first-team defense. Seattle QB Tarvaris Jackson was rarely allowed time to sit in the pocket and find an open receiver, which was a large part of why the Vikings were able to shutout Seattle in the first half. Tonight the Vikings will see an offensive line that is a touch better and a QB that is much better. If the Vikings can still find a way to pressure the passer tonight, we know they might have something going this year in terms of pass rush after a less-than-stellar pass rush last year. I think the secondary is going to be better than most people think this year, but an effective pass rush will make the secondary look even better.

Another strong performance from Chris Cook
One of the bright spots in last week’s victory over Seattle was the performance of CB Chris Cook. He was lined up against former teammate Sidney Rice for much of the first half and he held his own by frequently jamming Rice at the line of scrimmage and even being involved in a pass breakup in the endzone. If Cook can step up and perform well as the team’s 3rd CB, the Vikings defense will be stronger. With Cook in the lineup, the Vikings nickel package features two big, physical CBs (Cook and Griffin) on the outside and then Antoine Winfield sliding inside to play the slot receiver. That’s the lineup Frazier prefers to see out there and if Cook plays well tonight, that vision comes one step closer to being realized.

Competition at WR
One of the position battles still raging is at WR, where the top 3 are set (Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins) but the next two or three are still open. I’m not sure if the Vikings will keep five or six WRs, but either way there are jobs still available. We won’t count anyone out, but the guys I’ll be watching tonight are Devin Aromashodu, Greg Camarillo, Juaquin Iglesias and Jaymar Johnson. The next tier of guys are Manny Arceneaux, Stephen Burton and Andre Holmes. Aside from performance in the offense, another factor in determining which players will earn roster spots is special teams. Johnson can increase his value by proving effective in the punt return game, while Aromashodu has increased his value by making a pair of special teams tackles.


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Frazier Says Webb Will Be #2 QB Saturday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 25, 2011 – 12:51 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met with reporters after practice today and he said that Joe Webb will be the team’s #2 QB in Saturday’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. Webb and rookie Christian Ponder are in a closely-contested battle for the backup job behind veteran Donovan McNabb.

Frazier was also clear in explaining that neither guy has emerged as a favorite to be the team’s backup for the regular season. Both Ponder and Webb have performed well in camp and displayed improvement from preseason game #1 in Tennessee to the preseason game #2 in Seattle. Webb was the #2 in Tennessee and Ponder took those duties last week against Seattle.

The third preseason game is typically when starters get the most playing time and Frazier said he and the coaching staff are anticipating the roster beginning to shape after Saturday night. He even hinted that McNabb may not play much, if at all, in the Vikings preseason finale next Thursday against Houston.

“We’ve got some key decisions that we have to make at certain positions,” Frazier said. “This game, and I told our team this morning, will play a major rule in determining where some people are going to fit on our squad.”


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McNabb Says Offense Is Coming Along; Practice Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2011 – 3:41 pm

Vikings QB Donovan McNabb met with reporters after practice on Wednesday, just three days before the Vikings suit up for preseason game #3. Typically the third preseason game is when starters see the most playing time, so Saturday night’s contest against the Dallas Cowboys should give us a pretty good glimpse into just how much progress the Vikings offense has made.

Remember, coming off a lockout that canceled all Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamps in addition to a new Offensive Coordinator and starting QB has the Vikings a bit behind the 8 ball. But the Vikings won’t use that as an excuse for poor play, largely because many other teams are enduring the same or similar disadvantages and also because there’s a sense among many on this team that the offense is making strides.

“We’re getting very close, we’re getting very close,” McNabb said about the chemistry developing between himself and the receivers. “I’m excited with where we’re at right now and those guys kind of have a feel of where I may place the ball [when] they come out of their routes. I have a feel of how they’re going to come out of their routes.

“But again, each game is different and it’s a learning process for all of us and hopefully once the whistle blows come Game One we’re right where we want to be.”

That’s the goal – to be ready to go once Week 1 rolls around and then to continue getting better from that point forward. It seemed as if the Vikings offense made a step forward in that effort on Wednesday. During one full team period of practice, I was standing just behind Musgrave and I heard him complement the Vikings offense a number of times on their spacing and timing.

“We had a good day today,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after practice, speaking about his entire team. “I really believe we got better in some areas. We worked a little bit of short yardage, some goal line and some two-minute. Great weather again for us to practice in, which really helps a lot as you’re trying to mold the team and get the team ready for our third preseason game.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Frazier continued. “This game on [Thursday] night will give us a better indication of where we are and how far we have to go to be ready for our first regular season game.”

Here are a few observations from practice…

– The Vikings worked for roughly two hours on Wednesday in full pads and in warm, breezy conditions.

– Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who returned to practice from a hamstring injury on Tuesday, was not out on the field taking part in practice on Wednesday. Frazier said Shiancoe incurred a setback, but said it was not a major setback. The Vikings ultimately decided to hold him back on Wednesday rather than risk further injury.

– With Shiancoe on the sidelines, rookie TE Kyle Rudolph saw a few more reps. He’s had a tremendous training camp so far and he was very good on Wednesday. The one aspect of Rudolph’s game that I notice the most is how sure-handed he is; you rarely, if ever, see him take his eye off the ball before he secures it and moves upfield. He also rarely traps the football against his body to catch it.

– There was some pretty good action in the goal line portion of Wednesday’s practice. On three straight plays, the Vikings defense made stops against the scout team. On the first play, DT Letroy Guion penetrated and stopped a run in the backfield. On the second play, the offense used a play-action fake to try and fool the defense but LB Erin Henderson did not bite and was able to tip the pass and cause an incompletion. On the third and final play of the series, DT Christian Ballard and CB Cedric Griffin combined to stop a run short of the goal line.

– WR Percy Harvin made the play of the day on a pass from rookie QB Christian Ponder. Harvin was flying down the left sideline and was able to catch up to and dive under a pass that Ponder had launched downfield. Harvin came up with the ball, secured it all the way to the ground and then quickly got to his feet and completed the play by dashing to the endzone. This was one of the plays when Musgrave complemented Ponder and Harvin on “great timing.” In fact, Musgrave made the “great timing” comment as Ponder’s pass was in the air and about 75% of the way to where Harvin ended up making the catch.


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Frazier, McNabb Excited To Play In Front Of Home Crowd

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2011 – 3:20 pm

The Vikings return to play a game in front of their home crowd at Mall of America Field this Saturday night when they host the Dallas Cowboys for preseason game #3. The Vikings last played a game at their home stadium on December 5, 2010 and after opening the preseason with consecutive road games, both Head Coach Leslie Frazier and new QB Donovan McNabb are looking forward to having the home crowd behind them.

“Excited,” Frazier said when asked for his thoughts on playing in front of Vikings fans again. “Excited to be back with our fans. Mall of America Field has been a good place for us to play our home games and our fans give us so much energy as a football team. It’s something I’m looking forward to, just lining up at our home stadium after being on the road these first two preseason games. Just to hear the roar of our crowd, I’m excited about it. I’m sure our players are also.”

Frazier is right, Mall of America Field has been kind to the Vikings. The Vikings are 18-4 at Mall of America Field since the start of the 2008 season, including an 8-0 finish in 2009 (4-2 in 2010, missing two games due to the roof collapse). The team now has a combined record of 156-81-0 (.657) all-time at Mall of America Field, which includes a 7-5 mark in postseason games.

As a 13-year veteran with NFC foes Philadelphia and Washington, Saturday certainly won’t be McNabb’s first experience at Mall of America Field. So he knows the environment that exists there because of the passionate fan base.

“I’m looking forward to coming out of a different locker room,” McNabb said. “I’m just looking forward to the fans’ reaction and for us going out and making plays and hearing them roar a little bit. The anticipation I’m sure is growing for the fans as well as for us.”


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McNabb, Vikings Offense Take Step Forward

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 21, 2011 – 6:05 am

While winning games is always nice, teams strive for improvement during the preseason. On Saturday night in Seattle, the Vikings accomplished both objectives. Coming off a 14-3 loss to Tennessee in their preseason opener last week, the Vikings took a step forward this weekend and notched a 20-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

Another outstanding effort from the entire special teams group and a solid performance from the defense anchored the Vikings effort against Seattle. But the improvement made by the Vikings first-team offense should not go unnoticed, especially considering both WR Percy Harvin and TE Visanthe Shiancoe were missing from action.

The Vikings first-team offense didn’t see much of the field in the 1st quarter – they had just two minutes of possession and ran just 3 plays. But a goal line stand by the second-team defense set the stage for Donovan McNabb and Co. to hit their stride for about half the quarter.

Following the goal line stand, the Vikings first-team offense took over 1st and 10 from their own 1-yardline. Despite the fact it’s a preseason game, beginning a drive on your own 1-yardline on the road with the crowd screaming for a safety is not exactly the most comfortable position. But McNabb, a 13-year NFL veteran, handled the situation with poise and guided the offense downfield.

The first play from scrimmage was a 2-yard completion to Adrian Peterson, which gave the offense a little bit more breathing room. The second play from scrimmage was another pass, and McNabb stood tall in the pocket and delivered a 17-yard completion to rookie TE Kyle Rudolph. That got the Vikings out to the 20 and it set up TE Jim Kleinsasser for a 23-yard reception on the next snap. In a matter of moments, McNabb guided the Vikings from the shadow of their own goal post to midfield.

A few Peterson carries left the Vikings with a 2nd and 10 from the Seattle 45, which is when McNabb stood in the pocket again and found WR Michael Jenkins down the left side. Jenkins positioned himself beautifully on the play, as he cut in front of the CB and made a back shoulder grab while falling to the ground. A penalty two plays later eventually stalled the drive and the Vikings settled for a FG.

Yes, the Vikings offense needs to convert those drives with TDs and it was disappointing to see a false start penalty ultimately stall the drive. But given the current circumstances – new QB, new offense, no Harvin or Shiancoe – it was good just to see the Vikings march 81 yards in 13 plays and chew up more than 7 minutes of the game clock. Additionally, we saw a great illustration of a veteran QB guiding the offense through a tough situation – backed up against your own goal line on the road.

As we said after last week’s game against Tennessee, the effort by the offense tonight was acceptable and encouraging. Now, the key is to see improvement this week during practice and a step forward in next weekend’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field.


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Vikings Offense, Defense Look Good Early In Win

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 20, 2011 – 10:26 pm

The defense took care of the 1st quarter and the offense handled much of the 2nd quarter as the Vikings built up a 13-0 lead through the first half of Saturday night’s preseason game against the Seahawks in Seattle and went on to win by a 20-7 score.

Seattle’s offense, featuring former Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson and WR Sidney Rice, was on the field for 13 minutes in the 1st quarter, yet they were unable to muster any points. It was the Vikings defense that scored a TD, in fact, as CB Marcus Sherels picked off a deflected pass from Jackson and returned it 64 yards for the score.

The 2nd quarter was a much different story and it was the Vikings offense that hogged the ball early. QB Donovan McNabb led the Vikings on an 81-yard drive in 13 plays that consumed over 7 minutes and began on their own goal line after an impressive stand by the second-team defense. McNabb hit new WR Michael Jenkins for 21 yards on the drive, but eventually the offense stalled and Ryan Longwell came on to kick a 36-yard FG.

McNabb was 6 of 8 for 81 yards with no TDs or INTs on the night (106.8 passer rating) and RB Adrian Peterson finished with 16 yards on 6 carries and 2 catches for 11 yards. Ponder, who came in after McNabb, was 6 of 12 for 63 yards with no TDs and no INTs.

Late in the fourth quarter and leading 13-7, rookie RB Tristan Davis made the most of his one carry on the night as he scampered 35 yards to ice the game for the Vikings, who moved to 1-1 on the preseason with the victory.

Next up for the Vikings are the Dallas Cowboys, who make their way to Mall of America Field on Saturday.


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5 Things To Watch Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 20, 2011 – 10:44 am

The Vikings will play their second game of the 2011 preseason tonight against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle. Here are five things to watch during tonight’s game…

Improvement from Donovan McNabb, first-team offense
While it might not have satisfied the appetite of Vikings fans, the performance from the first-team offense last week was acceptable for a preseason debut. But a similar performance tonight against Seattle in preseason game #2 will not be acceptable. McNabb and Co. need to take a step forward and they appear ready to do that after a solid week of practice. McNabb is cautiously optimistic about the offense’s progress and we’ll find out tonight if that optimism is warranted. No, we shouldn’t look for perfection, but we should expect to see extended drives, minimal penalties, no turnovers, no sacks and maybe even a TD.

Tyrell Johnson’s performance at safety
There’s been great competition at the safety position during training camp, primarily between Johnson and Jamarca Sanford. But we also can’t count out rookie Mistral Raymond, who has put together a great training camp and is opening eyes. Tonight, Johnson will get the start and it’s important that he plays well. Johnson has all the physical tools to be a talented safety in the NFL. He’s also a smart player who understands the Vikings scheme. Now he needs to put it all together at once while he’s on the field, something he hasn’t been able to do consistently. If he can do that, I believe he’ll be the coaching staff’s choice as the starter. If he can’t do that tonight, then I think it’s a wide open race for the starting position among Johnson, Raymond and Sanford.

Who will step up at WR
Both Greg Camarillo and Percy Harvin have been declared out of this game, which means the Vikings coaching staff will get a longer look at a few players who normally wouldn’t see as much action. Both Camarillo and Harvin play primarily in the slot position, so I expect Juaquin Iglesias and Jaymar Johnson will be the guys who get the extra reps tonight. Both are roster bubble guys and both have recently been playing well. Iglesias has looked great in practice while filling in for Camarillo and Harvin. Johnson has worked his tail off to remain on this roster and then last week he ripped off a 40-yard punt return. Other guys who could get a few extra looks tonight in the slot are Manny Arceneaux and Devin Aromashodu – I view Aromashodu as more of an outside receiver but I also think he’s a polished enough receiver that he could play all three of the WR positions in this offense.

Christian Ballard at DT
Ballard’s best trait, in my eyes, is his versatility. He played and started in a lot of games at the University of Iowa at both DE and DT. So far with the Vikings, he’s played primarily at DT behind Kevin Williams at the 3-technique and his best moment of training camp came last week in Tennessee when he notched a sack from the DT position. If Ballard can continue to be a disruptive force tonight – even if it doesn’t result in a sack – it will go a long way toward convincing coaches that he can be a member of the DL rotation this season. It’s uncertain how well Brian Robison will play as the new starter at left DE and it’s uncertain if Williams will be available for the first four games of the regular season, so Ballard’s presence as a disruptive force in the rotation will ease a lot of the uncertainty.

Ryan D’Imperio creating separation at FB
One of my favorite position battles to watch so far during training camp and the preseason is at FB, where D’Imperio entered as the starter and Matt Asiata came in as an undrafted rookie free agent. D’Imperio was a draft pick in 2010 and the Vikings converted him from a college LB to an NFL FB. He spent last season on the practice squad and there’s no questioning the improvement he’s made in one year’s time. Asiata has also impressed, primarily because of his athleticism both in carrying the ball and catching passes out of the backfield. Tonight, though Asiata won’t play because of injury, which means D’Imperio can create more separation with a solid performance.


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Ponder Poised To Show Improvement Saturday Night

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 18, 2011 – 3:22 pm

First-round pick Christian Ponder was the third QB to enter the game for the Vikings last week in the team’s preseason opener. But on Saturday night in Seattle, Ponder will be #2 in the rotation.

Against the Titans last Saturday, Ponder entered the contest midway through the 3rd quarter and finished the game. He was 8 of 13 for 84 yards with no TDs and no INTs. A pretty good showing for your first NFL action. One area to clean up, though, is avoiding pressure. Ponder was sacked three times in Tennessee.

“There were some times when I could get the ball out faster or try to get out of the pocket a little faster,” Ponder said. “Ultimately it’s on me to get it done. I’ve got to react to what’s going on and be a quarterback and make decisions.”

That response came to a question that intimated his pass protection was such that there wasn’t much he could do to avoid being sacked. But, as a leader and QB should do, Ponder didn’t deflect blame anywhere else. He shouldered responsibility for the mistakes and vowed to improve.

“I’m letting pressure get to me. Just got to get the ball out and make decisions faster. But overall I thought it was okay,” Ponder said of his debut performance.

There’s no doubt Ponder has displayed improvement since last weekend’s preseason opener. He’s been crisp during four practices this week and has also performed well during blitz drills and situations where he’s asked to make audibles and/or checks at the line of scrimmage.

There’s also no doubt that at least a part of Ponder’s improvement during this past week can be attributed to the presence of veteran Donovan McNabb. The benefit of having McNabb around is two-fold; it gives the Vikings a chance to compete right now and it provides Ponder and second-year passer Joe Webb with an experienced veteran from which to learn. To date, the second part of that plan is unfolding.

“I think right now I’m getting better,” Ponder explained. “The good thing is I’m learning from him (McNabb), which is big for me…We’ve talked a lot about reads. We’ve watched film together. If I make a mistake, he’s right there in my ear helping me out.”

Ponder also explained that the learning curve is about what he expected for his rookie season and that things are beginning to slow down a touch for him. There’s a long way to go in Ponder’s development and he knows that. At this point, though, the Vikings should be pleased with how Ponder is working in practice.

“My number one goal is to do better than I did last week,” Ponder said. “I’m comfortable after going through last week and getting that experience under my belt and I think it’s going to be fun. I’m going to enjoy it. But I’ve got to learn from my mistakes last week and get better and make some more plays.”


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McNabb Cautiously Optimistic On Offense’s Progress

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 18, 2011 – 11:34 am

Some fans were quick to panic about the Vikings offense following a brief appearance by some of the first-teamers on Saturday night produced no points and little sign of explosion. But count the point man of the offense – QB Donovan McNabb – as one who is cautiously optimistic about the group’s progress.

“Yeah, we’re very excited where we’re at right now,” McNabb said. “But yet it’s still a work in progress. We made some big plays out here, running as well as throwing the ball. Communication-wise, I think the chemistry is flowing where we need it to be. But again, it’s just the beginning and we want to continue to get better each day.”

McNabb’s approach to the current status of the offense is professional, which shouldn’t be surprising considering this is his 13th season in the NFL. And he does have a point. Considering the starting QB just arrived fewer than three weeks ago and considering coordinator Bill Musgrave didn’t have the luxury of an offseason program, minicamps or Organized Team Activities (OTAs) to install his offense, the first-team offense didn’t look bad at all last Saturday night.

For the starting QB, the first preseason game is more about eliminating mental mistakes and perfecting fundamentals than it is about scoring points and accumulating statistics. To that end, McNabb was just fine last Saturday night. He was 6 of 11 for 40 yards with no TDs and no INTs. He completed his first three passes and four of his first five attempts. On McNabb’s first offensive series, the Vikings converted two third-down passes and drove from their own 7-yardline out to the 40.

McNabb came out for a second series and immediately hit WR Bernard Berrian on a quick slant. Then he lofted a touch pass to WR Greg Camarillo on 3rd and 3 to keep the drive going.

In the end, I came away encouraged with what I saw from McNabb and the first-team offense. Two of McNabb’s incompletions could’ve been caught, none of his passes were near-INTs and he used his athleticism to get out of the pocket to buy time. These are all good signs in the first preseason game.

An area to watch this weekend is the offensive line. There’s a new starter at LT, starting C John Sullivan is coming back from injury and there’s a good battle underneath Anthony Herrera at RG.

“The chemistry and the communication [are] definitely there,” McNabb said. “Myself and Sully, as well as Hutch and Herrera, just in the interior have really been communicating and seeing things the same. And obviously when you do that, your communication expands outside to the tackles and we’ll all be on the same page. I’m excited about what we’ve been able to do since everybody’s been able to practice, the way that we’ve continued to improve.

“Obviously this is Week-2-and-a-half for me, so I’m excited to see the progression that we’ve made and excited about what we’ve been able to do on the outside with the receivers and our running game. Again, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to clear up, but yet and still just looking at it, we’ve done some good things.”


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