The Vikings didn’t need Donovan McNabb, and vice versa. So the veteran quarterback was released Thursday in a move that was beneficial to both parties.
McNabb gets a chance to join another team that needs a quarterback. The Vikings get to fine-tune their attention on rookie starter Christian Ponder and Joe Webb, a raw but athletic backup who, unlike McNabb, was expected to be on the roster beyond January.
Coach Leslie Frazier praised McNabb for his successful career and how he handled being benched after the team started 1-5. Frazier said he thinks McNabb still has a future in the NFL, but hesitated when asked if he thought McNabb could still be a starter.
“I’m not certain about that,” Frazier said. “It depends on … every team is so different and what their needs are, so a lot depends on the team he goes to; if he goes to another team.”
Frazier and McNabb have known each other since they were together in Philadelphia, McNabb as the starting quarterback and Frazier as a defensive assistant. Frazier pushed hard to get McNabb signed as a one-year stopgap veteran who could make the Vikings competitive while bridging the gap to Ponder, the team’s 12th overall draft pick this year.
“Looking back and just knowing Donovan and knowing his history, I don’t think I would have done anything different,” Frazier said. “Knowing the circumstances and the situation we were in coming into the season with the offseason being what it was, that familiarity went a long ways toward making that decision so I don’t think I would have done it any differently.”
Asked what went wrong with McNabb, Frazier deflected blame away from the quarterback, as he did when he announced the decision to bench McNabb earlier this season.
“You guys watched our games that he started,” Frazier said. “There were a lot of factors contributing to our not winning ballgames. As I mentioned when I made the change, it wasn’t all about Donovan. That’s been proven along the way. There are a lot of other areas on our team that need to be going in the right direction in order for us to have success. It’s not just the QB position.”
–It’s getting tougher by the day for coach Leslie Frazier to project a positive outlook during a 2-9 season that reached an even lower low Tuesday when four key contributors ended up on injured reserve.
“I don’t know many times you’d ever see four guys go on injured reserve on the same day; it just doesn’t happen very often to anybody,” Frazier said Wednesday as the Vikings returned to practice in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Broncos at Mall of America Field. “But in our business, there are no excuses, as you know. You got to line up and play. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. We really believe in that next-man-up mentality.”
Of course, the Vikings are running out of men. Or at least ones that are any good and are familiar to the Vikings. On Tuesday, long-snapper Cullen Loeffler (fractured lower back), receiver Michael Jenkins (knee) and safeties Husain Abdullah (concussion) and Tyrell Johnson (torn hamstring) were placed on injured reserve.
Defensively, rookie sixth-round draft pick Mistral Raymond will start and be backed up by Jarrad Page, a six-year veteran who was signed off the street on Tuesday. Page started for Philadelphia earlier this season before being released. At cornerback, Benny Sapp, who was out of work just two weeks ago, could become the fourth different player to start at left cornerback if Asher Allen (shoulder) doesn’t heal in time.
Meanwhile, the pickings are just as slim at receiver. With Jenkins going down, the Vikings have only one receiver — Percy Harvin — with more than nine catches on the season. Harvin, a slot receiver, is the No. 1 receiver by default.Devin Aromashodu, who has nine catches, is the No. 2 receiver, and veteran journeyman Greg Camarillo, who has four catches, becomes the No. 3 receiver.
The team also will be working in rookie sixth-round draft pick Stephen Burton on Sunday. Burton made the team despite a horrendous training camp. He was on the practice squad the first seven weeks. After spending three weeks on the active roster, he was released last week and then re-signed when Jenkins was injured.
The Vikings, however, go into the Denver game thinking they can beat the surging Broncos if their run defense remains gap sound and contains unconventional quarterback Tim Tebow.
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“It’s kind of like defending the Wildcat on every play,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “You can’t lose your gap or Tebow can really make you pay for it. With him, you have two guys in the backfield who can really run with it.”
Frazier was asked what his mindset is heading into this game. A loss would mark the worst start in franchise history, topping the 1961 expansion team’s start.
“I think our team has been fighting week in and week out,” Frazier said. “We haven’t made enough plays to get over the top in some games. I’m more angry with myself in not being able to get us to where we need to be so we wouldn’t be 2-9. But I think our guys have fought week in and week out and tried to put us in a position in the fourth quarter to have a chance to win games. We just have to find a way to get over the hump and find some confidence and build on that. Hopefully, that will be this weekend.”
Frazier said he won’t have time to figure out what he should have done better until after this season.
“Maybe when the season is done, I’ll be able to go back and reflect on some of the things that have occurred this season and try to ascertain what could have been done differently so we don’t find ourselves in this position again,” he said. “As you’re going through the season, you’re getting ready week to week and you’re trying to come up with a game plan and a plan to try and get the guys to fight hard every week. I’ll have a better assessment when we’re done.”