Old players are quick studies at Redskins minicamp

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 19, 2010; D08

While there's a different environment, unfamiliar uniform colors and new faces all around, the feeling is a slightly familiar one for Donovan McNabb, the Washington Redskins' newly acquired quarterback.

"I feel like a freshman just getting into college," he said Sunday, following the final practice of the team's first minicamp.

The team's predraft minicamp was in many ways like the first week back to school for the Redskins, complete with a new curriculum, new teachers and new classmates.

"It was good to finally get out there, get a little work going," said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. "[We're] teaching everyone a new offense, so each day it got better. The first day everyone was a little rusty; they're just trying to know what they're doing. The more they knew what they're doing each day, we got a little better at technique as it went. I thought today was our best day."

In Coach Mike Shanahan's first minicamp since taking over as head coach in January, his staff began installing new offensive and defensive schemes, all the while making notes on individual performances. What they saw over the weekend will go a long way to determining some players' futures with the team and might force some last-minute tweaks on the team's draft board.

Though the minicamp was voluntary, Shanahan wanted to see commitment from his players, which is why 75 were in attendance and only three were missing: quarterback Jason Campbell, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and linebacker Rocky McIntosh.

Running back Clinton Portis, criticized by past coaches for his offseason conditioning habits, says that won't be a problem for him this year. In fact, Portis says he feels more committed than he has in recent years under former coach Jim Zorn.

"I actually do. It's a difference when you say commitment and you want someone to buy into a system that you really don't believe in," Portis said. "I think having Coach Shanahan here, you just believe in whatever he say. If he tell you, 'I think we can jump off the roof, that we going to land safe.' It's like, 'All right, [expletive] it, let's jump.' "

Shanahan denied reports that the Redskins are interested in trading Haynesworth, though few around the league would be surprised if Haynesworth is shopped before this week's draft. Either way, missing the first minicamp means Haynesworth and McIntosh are both a step behind their teammates in learning the new defense.

Coaches say the Redskins will switch to schemes that rely on both three-man and four-man fronts.

"They've got a lot to learn," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said of the absent players. "There's a lot more to this defense -- there's a lot of things. The longer you stay away, you've got a lot of catching up to do. Being around the guys that are here and knowing how conscientious they are, I think they'll be fine once we get them here and get them up to speed. I don't think it will be a big learning process."

As for the offense, McNabb said the minicamp was important. A Redskin for just two weeks, he's not the only one learning a new system. The team has acquired several new offensive pieces -- running backs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker and offensive lineman Artis Hicks among them -- and even players returning from last season must learn the new offense, a system devised by both Shanahans and expected to rely heavily on the run and a complex passing attack.

"I use it as kind of a mental weekend of being able to get accustomed in the offense, surrounded with the guys and just make sure we worked a lot on chemistry and timing and communication," McNabb said. "I think that's very important in this offense, of the success that [Kyle Shanahan] had in Houston. Hopefully we can mirror that."

McNabb has remained in town since he was acquired from the Eagles, lifting weights and spending his days at Redskins Park. He'll now take a week off to return to his Arizona home but will return to Washington the following week. "I expect to be here with these guys," he said. "We have a long ways to go."

Though he wasn't necessarily surprised, Mike Shanahan said he's been impressed by his new quarterback's leadership abilities.

"Donovan has done a great job since he's been here," Shanahan said. "It's always a learning situation any time you come in . . . but he's a worker, he's come out here and he's really thrown the ball well and he's looking forward for him getting to know the system a little bit better and getting more comfortable with the system as we go through these [organized team activities]."

Portis spoke with reporters Sunday at Redskins Park for the first time since the Redskins signed Johnson and Parker to compete with him in the backfield. He said he wasn't surprised by the signings and called the pair "great pickups."

"I think we'll find a way to make it work. I think that's beauty," he said. "Some people say you can never have too much and some people say there's not enough balls to go around, but I think the situation will work itself out. I think everybody is going to add a different dimension and come here and help this team."

Following this week's draft, the Redskins will have two more minicamps and 13 days of offseason training activities. The next minicamp is voluntary and is scheduled for May 7-9.

Staff writer Mark Viera contributed to this report.

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