Donovan McNabb's 'Hell Week' gives Redskins' offense a chance to get in sync

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2010; D01

The Washington Redskins don't report for training camp until July 29, but Donovan McNabb's "Hell Week" is scheduled to get underway bright and early Monday morning in Arizona.

While the weeks that lead up to training camp are generally treated as down time across the NFL, the Redskins quarterback has invited some of his new teammates to his Phoenix-area home for a week of grueling workouts and team building.

"I think it's important for the specialists on the offense to have that chemistry, to have that bond," McNabb says, "where they can trust me and I can trust them."

To that end, McNabb invited the Redskins' wide receivers, tight ends and running backs to Arizona to take part in his regular offseason workout program. It's the same opportunity he offered in the past few years to his former teammates in Philadelphia. Wide receivers Devin Thomas, Santana Moss and Malcolm Kelly are among those expected to participate.

McNabb calls it "Hell Week" because of the demanding nature of his workouts, and also because of the extreme summertime heat. Temperatures around Phoenix this week are expected to climb as high as 112 degrees.

"It's a different mind-set," McNabb said of the week. "I prepare guys the way I prepare."

The Redskins' players were expected to land in Phoenix on Sunday with an itinerary waiting for them. The week was expected to begin with an early wake-up call and the players reporting each morning to Fischer Sports, the 20,000-square foot workout facility where McNabb does most of his offseason training.

There, Brett Fischer, McNabb's trainer, will lead the group through workouts and exercises nearly identical to the ones the quarterback does during the offseason.

"For them, I think it's an eye-opener what we're doing," said Fischer, whose résumé lists him as a physical therapist, an athletic trainer and a strength-and-conditioning specialist. "I think it's an eye opener for them, comparing themselves with their quarterback, with how hard he's working out here. To me, it's him telling them, 'Hey, I'm taking this thing seriously to the next level. Let's go to the next level.' "

The daily routine focuses on the athlete's core -- abdominals, the lower back, gluteal muscles and hips -- and involves everything from traditional weights to resistance bands. Fischer likes to focus on balance, flexibility, joints and areas that most athletes tend to ignore in their regular workouts.

The group also will spend plenty of time on cardio by running steep hills in the desert heat until they finally take a break in the early afternoon.

"People, when they come in here and they see what he does, they're shocked," Fischer says. "They go, 'Man, he pays attention to every little detail in the workout.' And he's here from 8 o'clock until 10 o'clock. They go, 'I didn't realize he worked this hard. I didn't realize he had all the flexibility, all the core, all the lifting, all the things done for his body.' "

After a rest, McNabb summons the players to an area high school field in the late afternoon, where they work on routes. They also will assemble for seven-on-seven drills, against other athletes trained by Fischer, including New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis.

For McNabb and his receivers, every repetition, every throw and every snap is another small step in one of the game's most important relationships.

"You want to get on that same page where he knows where I'm going to break out at when we're running certain routes," said Thomas, a third-year wide receiver. "Just so you can get that confidence to where we've done it before without the pads on and without the pressure on. So when we get in those clutch situations in games, you have that comfort level you need."

After the workouts, McNabb and his teammates head to a movie or dinner. The key, they say, is just being around each other as much as possible.

"Can't nothing but good come out of the situation when you go out and work out with your quarterback before the season starts," Thomas said. "It's a great time to build that chemistry without the coaches being there. You just get a little of that extra bonding time to lead into training camp."

The annual week was a staple of McNabb's offseason routine with the Eagles, and it brought him closer to former teammates such as L.J. Smith, Jason Avant, Hank Baskett and Lorenzo Booker. McNabb said running routes in July put the offensive specialists much more in sync when the regular season began several weeks later.

The effort also will further establish McNabb as the leader of a group that hopes to improve on last season's 4-12 record. With a different head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback, the Redskins fielded the league's 22nd-ranked offense in 2009.

But with Mike Shanahan and McNabb now running the show, the Redskins have been trying to get the 2010 season off to a good start, and McNabb's "Hell Week" -- if everyone survives -- is the latest example.

"Some guys tend to go off on their own, work out on their own and do their own thing," Thomas said. "But for him to really collectively try to gather the guys that he knows are going to be key components in our offense, and get us all together to work for about a week, is a great thing that he's doing. It'll help us all out."

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