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For McNabb, Chemistry Is Key For Redskins' Offense


Here is where art and science collide.

Someday, perhaps, the Redskins' offense will be poetry in motion. For now, it continues to ferment in the laboratory as chemistry in motion.

That's the point of these off-season workouts and OTAs and mini-camps. Add a dab of passing game, a dollop of blocking, just enough intensity, and maybe something approaching a finished product begins to emerge.

Donovan McNabb knows he's the key element but he's not in this alone. And the idea that he simply needs to develop chemistry with his receivers remains only one part of a long equation.

"It's every position, as a whole," McNabb said Wednesday after two hours on the field during OTAs. "It's for the whole offense to be on the same page."

Sure, McNabb must know his receivers, the routes they run best, how much separation from defensive backs they can achieve. There's so much more to learn.

He talked about understanding the way his offensive line plays, the way center Casey Rabach calls protections. He wants a real feel for the flow of what the offense can do.

"The emphasis for us is consistency. We just want to get things rolling," he said.

That's why he's here. Day after day.

"I've never been part of so many OTA practices. But in all our cases, we don't mind it because we're learning a new offense," McNabb said.

After 11 years in Philadelphia with the same coach and the same scheme and terminology, he's in a new place. Please don't tell him the West Coast offense is the same everywhere or that the Redskins run the one he knew and excelled in.

"This definitely isn't the West Coast offense," he said. "It may come from the same tree but everybody adds a few wrinkles."

The Eagles were never a run-heavy team. The only 1,500-yard rusher in their franchise history was Wilbert Montgomery and he did it in the 1979 season, roughly 20 years before the Eagles drafted McNabb. The second- and third-best rushing seasons in Eagles' history? Before McNabb arrived.

The Redskins' backfield contains three backs who have put up numbers the Eagles would envy.

Clinton Portis' 1,516 rushing yards for the Redskins in 2005 best any total in Eagles' history. His 1,487 would be second-best in Eagles' annals. Larry Johnson ran for 1,750 in 2005 with the Kansas City Chiefs and 1,789 the following season. Willie Parker surpassed 1,200 yards three years running (and running well) with the Pittsburgh Steelers, peaking with 1,494 in 2006.

Unlike the Eagles, the Redskins won't set up the run with the pass. They will run, to maximize the passing game.

"We believe in the running game and everyone has to buy into it," coach Mike Shanahan said, quickly reciting the importance of receivers blocking downfield, the offensive line working as one, all the exchanges (center to quarterback to running back) handled smoothly.

Look back to 2008. The Eagles, who finished 9-6-1, had McNabb pass 571 times (and their total of pass attempts was 606). The Redskins finished 8-8, with Jason Campbell throwing 506 passes (of the team's 511). The Eagles ranked 22nd in rushing, the Redskins eighth. The Eagles ran the ball 427 times, the Redskins 478.

Yeah, the Eagles made the playoffs and the Redskins didn't but that's not the point. The Eagles liked to lob the ball in the flat to Brian Westbrook in classic West Coast style, running by passing. The old joke was that the short pass was just an extended handoff.

There's a basic philosophy at work with the Redskins and it reads like this:

Force the defense to stop the run and it will walk a safety up, committing an eighth player to the front. Get that defense to overpursue the run while it must play man-to-man coverage in the back end. Give McNabb options for motion, bootlegs, half-rolls and a chance to direct his receivers downfield. Dictate to the defense.

It won't all happen at the OTAs. Or at the mini-camp in two weeks. Training camp creates the boiling point. Pads, helmets and contact become the lab tools then. That's the crucible.

You want poetry in motion? For now, content yourself with better living through chemistry.

Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at *** and follow him on **.*

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