Redskins work with Donovan McNabb on his throwing motion

Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning face-off at FedEx Field.
By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 12:41 AM

For 11 years, Donovan McNabb has essentially thrown a football the exact same way, relying on his quick feet and impressive upper-body strength to make passes that other quarterbacks simply can't. Early in his tenure with the Washington Redskins, though, coaches have spotted areas where McNabb's mechanics could use work, and they say they've already noticed improvement.

"Let's face it, he's always been a great passer," said Washington quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur. "It's something that we always thought, if he did it a little more consistently, he'd get even that much better."

Coaches have been trying to improve McNabb's accuracy, and to do that they've focused on his footwork. In studying tape, coaches noticed that when McNabb's stance is more narrow, he strides into his throws and isn't as balanced as they'd like. By widening his stance, they hope a more steady base leads to better throws.

"Quarterbacks in general, when you have a base, there's a lot less moving parts, and it allows you to throw more accurately," LaFleur said.

While young quarterbacks often tinker with mechanics, veterans don't often undergo major overhauls.

Some, such as Chad Pennington, might alter their mechanics following injuries or surgeries. Others, such as Rich Gannon, might continually tinker with their throwing motion, much like a golfer tweaks his swing or a batter fiddles with his stance.

McNabb played down any changes, saying his footwork is "one of many" areas coaches have been trying to improve. "There's people with footwork worse than mine," he said.

Entering Sunday's game at Chicago, McNabb's home town, the bigger question becomes: Can Redskins coaches still teach a veteran quarterback new tricks?

Cris Collinsworth, the NBC analyst who called the Redskins' loss to Indianapolis last Sunday, met with Coach Mike Shanahan in the days before the game and made passing reference to McNabb's footwork during the telecast.

"Does he miss some throws, he does, and I think that has been the frustrating part, what Mike and Kyle [Shanahan, offensive coordinator] have been working on," Collinsworth said in an interview this week. "The thing they've pinpointed it to widening his base."

Collinsworth played at the University of Florida when Shanahan coached there early in his career. He said Shanahan's tinkering is a product of his perfectionism, as much as it is with McNabb's skill-set.

"He's not going to let up on you. Mike's going to demand that you get better, and he'll tell you what he thinks you can improve on," Collinsworth said. "If you're an 11-year vet, been to the Super Bowl, whatever - he doesn't care. He's a pusher. He wants you to be better tomorrow than you are today.

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