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Redskins' Donovan McNabb endears himself to Washington through texts, lunches and in front of microphones

By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 2010; D01

After five days of minicamp drills, Donovan McNabb is the undisputed leader of the Washington Redskins. It's a fast ascension, in part due to his position -- the quarterback has been the putative team leader since Frank Merriwell was in short pants -- and in part due to his status as a 33-year-old veteran of seven postseasons playing for a rebuilding team.

McNabb has moved to town. He lifts weights regularly at Redskins Park. He takes his receivers to lunch, and he's invited them to train with him in Arizona between next month's mandatory minicamp and the opening of training camp. But he has also taken the reins in ways Merriwell could never have imagined.

He keeps in contact, at least electronically, with Albert Haynesworth, who has refused to work out with the team or attend voluntary functions. After McNabb was traded to Washington, he called his predecessor, Jason Campbell, which couldn't have been easy, since his arrival signaled Campbell's demotion. When rumors began swirling last month that McNabb was pushing the Redskins to sign former Philadelphia teammate Terrell Owens, McNabb was quick to get in touch with wide receiver Devin Thomas to assure him the stories weren't true. After just 27 days with the Redskins, McNabb seems to have the entire roster on speed dial.

"When those rumors came out he hit me," Thomas said on Saturday. "He was one of the first people to text me just telling me there's a whole bunch of hoopla and not to worry about it and he's happy with what we have and we're going to make do with what we have. He's just an upfront guy. He doesn't put up a front for anybody."

McNabb has made establishing an electronic friendship with Haynesworth a priority. He hasn't talked him into reporting to voluntary camp yet, but if Haynesworth is still a Redskin on June 16, he'll come to mandatory camp knowing he has at least one supporter on the field.

"I continue to communicate with him," McNabb said. "Hopefully things will change and we'll look to see him out here. I know he's working out so that's not an issue.

"It's important that as a team everyone kind of stays together. He's a part of this team. . . . We know the business aspect of things. We've all been through it. I've always tried to provide confidence for him to let him know we're behind him. When the time comes when he comes in, just make sure he's ready and he's ready to be disruptive."

Even Haynesworth might have gotten lost in the crowd at Redskins Park Saturday. Some 110 burgundy-and-white-clad players took to the practice fields on the second of a three-day minicamp that was voluntary for veterans, mandatory for rookies and essential for everyone. Daniel Snyder was there. Bruce Allen was there. The media horde was there. Young cheerleaders and fans were even there, courtesy of a Pigskin Club gathering.

When practice was over, McNabb headed directly to the sideline to sign autographs for the waiting kids, then headed to the other waiting kids, the media. Rocky McIntosh was on the platform, finishing up. McNabb, standing among the reporters, did his best imitation of a stupid media question before taking his place behind the microphone, where he is as comfortable as he is under center. Local advertisers must be salivating over McNabb the spokesman; he could even make an Eastern Motors commercial look sophisticated.

McNabb was asked if he had moved to the Washington area.

"I'm still living in Philadelphia," he deadpanned. "No, I'm just kidding. I'm here. I'm here. I think in order for me to get accustomed with everything [the best thing] is for me to be here. I'm living here and enjoying it. Would you like to buy me a house?"

Campbell worked out in the offseason with his receivers and McNabb is doing the same. He's also doing some socializing.

"Sometimes we go to lunch and just kind of get together, get to know each other away from the game," McNabb said. "That builds a lot of trust and a big bond for certain situations. These guys are willing to learn and willing to get better and I'm doing the same myself so that helps in so many ways."

Do the receivers pay?

"We'll have Trent [Williams, the team's No. 1 draft pick] tag along and then get some of that money," he said. "It's not really about paying . . . but I would like for them to pay."

Thomas, who said he's "definitely down" for a trip to Arizona, said the new quarterback's leadership role seems to come naturally to him.

"That's something he's accustomed to doing, being a leader," Thomas said before heading over to sign autographs as well. "We definitely needed that vibe, especially at the quarterback position from a guy like Donovan who's proven and can really inspire a lot of people. He definitely just came here and just did that naturally and he's really picking up a lot of guys."

So, after 27 days in Washington and five days of drills and some lunches, the Redskins still aren't out of the woods yet.

Even a bad team can have a good leader. But the new team leader seems to be on the same frequency as his new teammates. And that's a start.

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