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ESPN’s Ron Jaworski discusses McNabb’s situation

ESPN Monday Night Football analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski hosted a teleconference this afternoon to discuss Monday’s game. You’ll be surprised to learn that the name Donovan McNabb was mentioned. I found his insight quite interesting, so I figured I’d pass it on in unabridged form. Enjoy:

Q: How are the demands of a quarterback different in a two-minute offense, and what have you seen from Donovan McNabb over the years in those situations?

A: When you look at the history of Donovan, he’s been inconsistent in that period of time. There have been times where he’s run the two-minute offense brilliantly, and there have been times where it’s been sketchy. I always look at the physical attributes of what a quarterback has to have during that period. I think a couple things that always jump out are a strong arm because in that situation you can’t dink and dunk the ball down the field. They know you’re going to have to throw to the tight windows. I always felt a strong arm was critical to success in the two-minute drill. I always think mobility is important as well because that’s a time when defensive linemen are kicking their heels back, and they’re going to force you to move around. They know where you’re going to be, they know where the launch point is, for the most part, and that’s where they’re going to attack. I think you’re quarterback has to have a pocket feel and an ability to move around in the pocket. Maybe that’s why it was kind of surprising to me in that Detroit game when Donovan was taken out. Through the course of that game he was under duress almost the entire game. He was moving around the pocket pretty much on every situation they were dropping back to throw the football, barring the times they went with maximum protection.

Q: What did you make of Mike Shanahan’s decision to bench McNabb?

A: It’s kind of a head-scratcher. I’m actually sitting here right now, I’m in the third quarter of that Detroit-Washington game for the second time—I looked at it earlier in the week—and I’ll still trying to find something that hinted a change was going to be made. Quite honestly, I still can’t find anything. There’s nothing that would lead me to believe that, boy, we’ve got to make a quarterback change. We’re not moving the football. Maybe we need a spark, which is a great phrase that coaches seem to use. But certainly I thought Donovan was doing all he could have done in the situation during the game under the duress he was under. The offensive line wasn’t blocking very well. They weren’t running the ball consistently, and their receivers were struggling to catch the football. So that’s why it’s kind of a head-scratcher that at a critical time in the game when you’re football team is 4-3 and you have a chance to get to 53 that you would choose that time to bench the quarterback. I can’t find any rhyme or reason why they made that decision.

Q: How much more difficult is the two-minute offense to learn?

A: I think every quarterback loves to run the two-minute drill. I think every quarterback looks forward to that. That is kind of the one time where you get a chance to call the plays and run the offense. Yeah, you still have the microphone system in your ear coming from the coaches on the sideline, but it really is your time to take charge of the offense. And these plays are pretty much scripted. You practice throughout the week. You talk to your coordinator about the plays you want to run. In the two-minute drill you normally get a predictable coverage, so I don’t think it’s always as difficult as people make it out to be. You have your plays that you’re going to run, and you run those plays. It definitely is a time in the game that a quarterback looks forward to. The ball is his now and he’s got to run the offense. Throughout the game, you’re getting different formations sent in, you’re getting the coach in your ear calling every play, they’re yelling at you alerts. In the two-minute drill, man, it’s yours. Take ownership. I think any quarterback worth his salt relishes the opportunity to run the offense in the two-minute drill.

Q: Can you tell the difference between a quarterback who is still learning an offense and a quarterback who is struggling to learn it?

A: You know, I really can’t by watching tape. I can only give you my personal experiences, and I’ve actually found some of the comments kind of interesting in reading all the accounts of what happened last week. You know, the playbook being scaled down and limited. To me, that’s normal operating procedure. I played for four different teams during my 17-year career. After 10 years with the Philadelphia Eagles, I go down to the Miami Dolphins and Dan Marino is the quarterback. Well, I had to learn a whole offensive system, an entirely new verbal way to communicate how we were going to run our plays. So there literally was almost two game plans. Fortunately, Dan Marino almost never got hurt, so I played sparingly in Miami. But my version of the game plan was different than Dan’s because I wasn’t familiar with that offense. I didn’t have the whole game plan at my disposal. It takes years to learn the nuances of an NFL offense. The fact that the offense was scaled down doesn’t surprise me at all. I think that’s what an astute coach would do—not give the quarterback everything coming from a new system, but kind of get a feel how he’s learning it as things go on. I’m surprised those comments were made in a negative manner because I would almost look at it in a positive manner. Let’s kind of spoon-feed the guy in a new system.

Q: What were some of the most effective methods that you used in trying to absorb and memorize the information in a new offense, and what are some of the challenges involved?

A: I’ll give you a quick thought of a play. I’m in Philadelphia and we call the play: “Red Right Firm Eight Sixty-Six Flat Check.” I go to Miami and the call would be: “Two Flip Sixty Texas.” Same exact play. So I would call “Sixth-Texas” in Miami, and in my mind I’m thinking, “OK, in Philly, that’s Eight Sixty-Six.” It’s the exact same play, so it’s like learning another language. Until you learn the ABC’s, you don’t put words together. You don’t want to try to learn everything in a week, a month, sometimes not even a year—because that’s just learning how to call a play, let alone execute it. So that’s kind of what I mean by spoon-feed as much as the quarterback can take before you move on to the next step.

Q: Which memorization techniques were most effective for that?

A: Rote memory. You just keep repeating it. You write it. You draw it. You study it. You look at tape. You practice it. And by repetition it just becomes second nature to you. OK, now you understand you’re offense. You’ve got the plays now. Now you’ve got to put it up against a defense. What are the adjustments? I’m sure the adjustments on routes are different. In other words, what happens at the line of scrimmage once the ball is snapped? What are the route adjustments to a rolled corner? To a linebacker buzzed? Maybe to a rolled corner, that out route becomes a fade in Philadelphia under Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid and all of a sudden that rolled corner becomes a Burst 6 in that combination in Washington. Everything changes the minute the ball is snapped. That’s when you become instinctive as a quarterback and sometimes you may think a little bit, ‘Oh, what is that?’ We saw it in the Detroit game. Donovan threw a fade and Moss runs a hook. Just the little things that are off that happen on game day, those little adjustments that take place, those things take time. Sometimes they take years.

Q: How would you rate McNabb’s play this season?

A: I thought his game against Houston was the best game I saw him play in his career. I thought that’s how well he played in that game. Now, there have been some uneven games, but I think you have to look at the whole body of this offense right now. They’ve got some issues, and obviously the quarterback is going to get too much credit when things go well, and too much blame when they go poorly. You look at how they’ve operated, the offensive line has really struggled. There’s too much quick pressure on the quarterback. I’ve looked at all eight games of the Redskins’, and I’ve seen Donovan, when he has time in the pocket, when they have maximum protection and when they use play action and they have designed big plays, he has been able to execute those plays almost flawlessly. Too many times with pressure. Too many times receivers are dropping balls that should have been caught. And too many known situations for the defense where they can get after the quarterback. But I think, clearly, when the protection is there, Donovan has operated this offense very well. Now, when there’s pressure—and there’s been a lot of that this year—that’s when the mistakes have been made.

Q: If you had to speculate, do you think McNabb is the Redskins’ quarterback next season?

A: I think what has happened in Washington, they thought they had their quarterback. I thought they had their quarterback. I actually thought Donovan was a perfect fit for the style of offense they wanted to run and bring some leadership out of that football team while they develop some of their younger players and go through that rebuilding process. But it looks like what has transpired in recent times—his contract is still in the final year and it doesn’t appear that anything is happening on that front. He was yanked from the game in the two-minute drill against Detroit. None of those are positives right now. So my feeling would be that although there’s a dearth of quarterbacks in the National Football League right now, my gut would tell me Donovan might be somewhere else next year.

Q: Wouldn’t letting Donovan leave D.C. after one season be a risk?

A: It’s a tremendous risk. When you’ve got a quarterback that has performed at a high level for 12 years and you decide that he’s no longer you’re guy, as Bill Parcells [said], “You can’t dial up 1-800-QUARTERBACK.” They’re just not out there. I don’t think there’s a dozen guys in this league right now that give you 16 games of consistent quarterback play over a season. They’re just not out there. You look at what you have behind Donovan, you have two journeymen guys in Rex Grossman and John Beck. So then if you say we’re going to go through the draft, you look at two or three years down the road. A lot of teams don’t want to go into hat rebuilding process. So my instincts and my football intuition say, man, let’s make some pace and let’s move this thing forward because Donovan still is a very talented football player.

Q: Is there a strength of Donovan’s that Andy Reid used in Philadelphia that you don’t see being used now in Washington that Mike and the offense might turn to in the second half?

A: Not really. I see a lot of the same things schematically that Andy used—some maximum protection stuff, some movement outside of the pocket. Mike’s foundation has always been a lot of the bootleg game, get your quarterback outside and try to get those big plays. Andy did a lot of the same thing. I really think I see a lot of the same thing that Donovan executed in Philadelphia being done in Washington. I think the tools are a little bit different. I think his receiving corps in Washington has to step up. They’ve got to play better. It’s easy to say everyone has got to play better, but it’s an area I think needs to improve upon because there are opportunities with Donovan’s arm to get more explosive plays.