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Redskins notes, quotes and observations (Wed, 9/29)

Welcome to Donovan McNabb Week, featuring Michael Vick. Talk around the locker room today was almost exclusively about the Philadelphia Eagles’ former and current quarterbacks. More than a dozen Philadelphia media members attended the open locker room session here in Ashburn to chronicle the buildup to McNabb’s return on Sunday.

In case you’ve been living under a rock since Easter, here’s the backstory in 59 words: McNabb played 11 seasons for Philadelphia until the Redskins acquired him in a trade for two draft picks on Easter. During his tenure, he led the Eagles to five NFC Championship game appearances and made six Pro Bowls. The Eagles, however, opted to move forward with Kevin Kolb as their starter. Vick, though, permanently unseated Kolb after Week 2.

As you’d expect from the media-savvy quarterback, McNabb is publicly downplaying the significance of one of the biggest storylines of the NFL season.

“For me to sit here and try to explain how my emotions may be or what’s going through my mind, I think, is kind of, as Mike Tyson said, ludicrous,” McNabb said. “I think I can respond to that better when the game is over. For me to try to come up with something wouldn’t be right. But I’m going to approach this week like it has been the last couple weeks, which is preparing, working with [coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan] and trying to make sure we’re on the same page and go out and execute plays. “

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Behind that façade, though, is a part of McNabb that recognizes the magnitude of this game. His ties to the Eagles organization run deep, and he’s not denying that.

“The organization means a lot,” he said. “The coaches mean a lot. The success I’ve had is not because of myself alone. It’s because of the players that surrounded me, the coaching staff, the coaches putting me in great position. Eleven years is not one you can forget about in a week or a year.”

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is embracing the special circumstances of this week’s game.

“I think it’s always a tough situation for anybody,” Shanahan said. “It’s one you kind of look forward to. Even though there’s a lot of pressure, you pretend like there’s not and it doesn’t matter, but I think it always does. You’d like to play your best. It’s kind of why you play the game.”

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Just as McNabb has to deal with some unique emotions this week, so do members of the Eagles organization, many of whom consider McNabb a friend. Eagles coach Andy Reid, for example, worked closer with McNabb than any other player he has coached, yet Reid decided to trade him.

“It’s the toughest part of this business,” Reid said. “Things change in this league and it’s a tough deal. It’s not a fun thing, especially with someone as close as I was to Donovan. You’ve got to look at it as it’s a fresh start for Donovan, a fresh start for the Eagles, and here we go. I still respect the heck out of the guy.”

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A popular question today centered on the reception McNabb should expect from the Philly fans. There’s way too much emphasis on this, in my opinion. It’s just something to talk about, but really it’s meaningless. I do care about how the reception turns out because I’m curious, but it’s over in 10 seconds and the game starts. It has no bearing on anything.

McNabb’s take on it: “Hopefully cheers.” Reminded that Philly fans like to boo anything that moves, he said: “I do know that, but 11 great years—you wouldn’t expect me to say I’m going to get booed, do you?  But 11 great years, and that’s something you just cant forget?”

***

On the Redskins injury front, LT Trent Williams (knee/toe) was limited in practice today. “He looked OK; still a little bit sore, but he did get a chance to practice, so that’s a good sign,” Mike Shanahan said.

CB DeAngelo Hall hurt his back before practice—Shanahan believes it occurred in the weight room—and was limited in practice.

P Josh Bidwell missed practice to have his ailing right hip evaluated by a doctor in Tennessee. The Redskins worked out some punters, including Hunter Smith, on Tuesday. If Bidwell can’t go this week, the Redskins will make a move to bring one on. We should know something soon.

As for the rest of the injury report, the following players were limited in practice: NT Anthony Bryant (concussion) and LG Kory Lichtensteiger (knee).

The following players fully participated in practice: WR Anthony Armstrong (groin), S Chris Horton (ankle), DL Albert Haynesworth (thumb), S Kareem Moore (knee), RB Clinton Portis (wrist) and RB Keiland Williams (ankle).

For Philadelphia, starting RG Nick Cole (knee) did not practice.

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Several Redskins players raved about Eagles QB Michael Vick today after watching film on him.

“He is looking really, really good right now,” DL Vonnie Holliday said. “The best I’ve seen him in a long time. It’s one of those games where you’ve got to put pressure on him, you’ve got to hold your gaps. At the same time, it’s going to take 11 guys rallying around him because there are times when he’s going to take off and run, and he’s looking really, really fast right now. We have our work cut out for us.”

Vick clearly is thriving through two and a half games. He was named NFC offensive player of the month for September after throwing six touchdowns, no interceptions and averaging 7.4 yards on 23 carries.

“I just feel like my decision making has gotten better and I’m in more control of the offense,” Vick said in a teleconference.

He poses a big matchup problem for the NFL’s worst-ranked defense. CB Carlos Rogers said the Redskins must use a safety to spy Vick.

“If you put a linebacker on him, they have no chance,” Rogers said.

***

The Redskins’ struggling defense also must contend with speedy receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles’ nine passing plays of 25 or more yards this season are the third-most in the NFL. That’s a big-time problem for a secondary that has struggled in coverage in all three games. Expect Washington’s corners to try to disrupt their routes with jams at the line of scrimmage and other legal contact.

“DeSean gives you so many things,” Rogers said. “He kind of freelances. Maclin is a straight route-runner. He’ll run the route. They both don’t want no physical contact, so that’s one of the key things we’re gonna have to do.”

The Redskins also have to improve in both man-to-man and zone coverage. In man, Redskins corners at times have not effectively diagnosed routes. “It’s about reading break points, where guys are gonna break their routes off at,” Rogers said. In zone, the Redskins have demonstrated a tendency to lose receivers in the secondary while looking in at the quarterback. “Sometimes we need to look at that receiver and see where he’s at; instead of sitting back reading the quarterback, kind of match our man,” Rogers said.

***

Redskins DL Vonnie Holliday acknowledged that the Redskins’ run defense in the nickel package is not playing well enough right now. St. Louis ran eight times for 77 yards and a touchdown last Sunday against the Redskins’ nickel.

In that package, two defensive linemen—often Holliday and Albert Haynesworth—line up as defensive tackles while outside linebackers position themselves as defensive ends. The result is a 4-3 look.

Holliday believes the Redskins’ struggles are a matter of technique, not scheme.

“Gap control is very important,” he said. “It’s just like a four-man front. When we get into that nickel package, every guy has a gap. And then after that it’s just a fight. It’s just two big guys in there. Other than that, it’s just the same defense. You talk about the 4-3 defense, that’s just our version of the 4-3. Normally we get into it more in passing situations, but we tighten our alignments in certain situations when we think they’re more likely to run.”

***

According to an NFL Network report, the Redskins worked out receivers Demetrius Williams, Keenan Burton and Reggie Brown on Tuesday. Teams do this sort of thing quite frequently, so you can’t write off Devin Thomas or Roydell Williams just yet. But it never hurts for a team to get a first-hand look at what else is out there, especially considering how the Redskins complementary receivers have not produced. It’s a problem.

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Congratulations to DE Phillip Daniels. His son DaVaris, one of the nation’s top high school recruits, committed to Notre Dame last night. Daniels takes immense pride in his son’s burgeoning career, and it’s fun to hear him talk about it. If you haven’t seen Daniels’ Twitter account on a Friday night, you can get play-by-play of DaVaris’ public school team in Illinois trouncing some poor opponent. Usually it involves DaVaris returning interceptions for touchdowns.

Daniels was a bit salty that Georgia (his school) didn’t offer DaVaris a scholarship, but Daniels took solace in the fact that Georgia isn’t known for producing great wide receivers. Daniels’ hope is that he and DaVaris could be in the NFL together in a few years. Daniels is 37, but I would not put it past him. You saw how agile he was on the blocked field goal against the Rams.

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