EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Is it possible, or part of NFL protocol, to teach an old quarterback new tricks?
The Vikings have been evaluating Donovan McNabb's mechanics this week, a response to some inaccuracy issues that have bogged down the 34-year-old and the Minnesota offense.
McNabb has only one turnover, an interception on his first play from scrimmage off a batted pass at the line, through three games. His predecessor, Brett Favre, had seven by this point last season. But several of McNabb's throws have been uncatchable, either one-hoppers that landed well short of receivers or air balls that sailed over the heads of his targets. That has been one big reason why the Vikings (0-3) haven't been able to build on their halftime leads.
McNabb ranks 26th in the league with a 78.1 passer rating. His completion percentage is only 58, though that's close to his career average. He's shown he can still scramble and either hustle for a first down or hit his target while rolling out, but as long as they're unable to complete any deep throws, McNabb and the Vikings can't afford those medium-range passes to fall incomplete.
"The margin of error in our league is so thin that when you have a chance to hit a receiver or to make a catch, you have to do it because you just don't know when that turn is going to come around again," coach Leslie Frazier said.
When asked this week what might be causing some of those one-hoppers McNabb has thrown, Frazier said the Vikings were examining the way McNabb drops into the pocket, uses his feet when he's there and releases the ball into flight. He said later that there were areas the coaching staff had identified as potential points of quality control in practice.
"It's not a whole lot different than, say, a guy who is a Cy Young winner in baseball," Frazier said. "You're always trying to improve on what you have. You don't ever want to stay the same."
Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, when broaching the subject, each made a point to stress that such refinement and examination goes on constantly with each player on the roster. NFL teams, after all, videotape every second of every practice so coaches can analyze later.
McNabb didn't sound as if he wholeheartedly welcomed the focus on his fundamentals, though he said he looks forward to correcting the mistakes for the sake of self and team improvement.
"When you're critical of yourself and your play, you just look at your reads, you look at how fast you can get the ball out," McNabb said, brushing off the necessity of actually breaking down his throwing motion, like a pitcher would. "Obviously, you look at footwork and things of that nature, but that's not just at my position. That's from everyone."
McNabb was infamously benched by the Redskins last year during his one tumultuous season in Washington, and if the Vikings keep losing the questions about whether they should start developing first-round draft pick Christian Ponder will only increase.
"I've been in the situation before, many times. Everybody loves the backup," McNabb said. "But that's for every team. When things go well, the quarterback is the one who sees all the attention. When things go wrong, they are the ones who get criticized the most."
Another player who's found himself under scrutiny is wide receiver Bernard Berrian, whose role as the stretch-the-field receiver has been unfulfilled so far. He has just one reception, for 17 yards. If he could get open more often or somehow catch all of the balls that come his way -- McNabb overthrew him badly in the corner of the end zone last week and the Vikings had to settle for a field goal -- the offense would be in far better shape.
"We'll continue to try to work on getting him the football," Frazier said. "It's just about getting that separation and getting in situations where we feel like we have a chance to get him the football. It's something that we're going to need between Donovan and Bernard, especially down field making some plays."
Easier said than done, of course.
"We definitely have some opportunities we want to get back," wide receiver Percy Harvin said. "That's been the frustrating part. Hopefully we can dial it up a little bit better and connect on some of these."
After being held out of Wednesday's practice, running back Adrian Peterson (calf) and linebacker E.J. Henderson (knee) took part in Thursday's workout. Frazier said Peterson looked good, but Henderson still showed some tenderness in the joint.