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Next chapter for McNabb: proving his doubters wrong

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Resoundingly, the Vikings players and many of their coaches say quarterback Donovan McNabb is a swell guy.

"Obviously, he's been in the league for a long time so he's a great leader," running back Adrian Peterson said. "He's fit in naturally. His personality in the locker room and off the field is great. You couldn't ask for a better guy. I'm excited."

Said coach Leslie Frazier: "One of the most impressive things about him is how he's come in and fit in, right away. He's got a sense of humor that doesn't come across sometimes in interviews. I knew this from my time I spent with Donovan in Philadelphia. He's just a fun-loving happy guy. Players kind of feed off of that. He's a down-to-earth guy. He's fit in well."

But can he play? McNabb's impressions are great if you're looking for a camp counselor or a new roommate. There wasn't much talk about him zipping the ball into tight windows consistently or making Bernard Berrian better.

Maybe the Vikings haven't seen enough after one preseason game to draw that conclusion. That's fair.

But can he still get it done? That's a fair question, too.

Philadelphia, where McNabb racked up Hall of Fame numbers and led the team to a Super Bowl, traded him last year to Washington, a team within the division. It was time to move on -- to Kevin Kolb. The Redskins soured on McNabb in less than a season, feeling Rex Grossman and John Beck were better options.

McNabb might have been a nice guy and fit in to the locker rooms in Philly and Washington, too.

In Minnesota he's getting a fair shake by players because many of them played against him and know what he's capable of. That in itself has inspired guys. Had the Vikings gone with first-round draft pick Christian Ponder at quarterback, the ups and downs of playing a rookie could have been as taxing as last season, when a team that was a couple plays from going to the Super Bowl in 2009 fell to 6-10 amid non-stop controversy.

Even so, Ponder is Plan B in case McNabb can't be the player he once was. Veterans have put their faith in McNabb because if he can't cut it, the rebuilding process will be under way, and not everyone is comfortable with that.

"When you make a move like bringing Donovan in, his success in the past speaks for itself," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "As a veteran it gets you excited. Christian has done a great job. We're excited for him as well but when you take that rookie quarterback and say you're starting from Day One, you know it's going to be hard for him. It's going to be hard for the offense. So in a way your organization is saying it may take a while to go through it.

"By bringing in Donovan to help us along, we're ready to win right away and we're capable of winning right away. Let the pieces fall in place after that."

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The Vikings are doing everything possible to help McNabb succeed. New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave runs a West Coast system, much like what McNabb knew in Philadelphia. Musgrave is flexible enough to cater a portion of the playbook to McNabb's skill set. Without major outside wide receiver threats, Musgrave also is going to use a lot of two tight-end sets with Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph.

"In Philadelphia we had Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith. Then we had L.J. Smith and Brent Celek," McNabb said. "I'm used to the two tight-end sets. When you have two tight ends, it puts pressure on defenses and we're going to utilize that."

There's also Peterson. McNabb said while Peterson is going to continue being the workhorse that he's always been, the system calls for him to be a receiving threat as well. McNabb said Peterson could have the diverse impact that former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook had, except with more production. Peterson is the best in the game.

In turn, Peterson said McNabb could deliver like Brett Favre did with Minnesota in 2009. Favre was motivated to prove that he could still play. McNabb's not making it a personal mission, but teammates said he knows this might be the last time this Vikings' nucleus has a shot, and it's up to him to keep things functioning.

That's what has hooked Minnesota's players and coaches.

"I'm sure he's got some motivation from Washington," Peterson said. "There are great expectations from a lot of people but I'm sure he's got a lot for himself. Guys are hungry to get back on track to win the North division. Veterans, including Donovan, have done a great job of letting the young guys know and making sure they're on the same page in terms of what we're trying to accomplish."

This is where McNabb's personality and experience matter most. He's been on teams like this where there is potential, but the inability for everyone to share the same goal derailed things. He's taking as many cues from his new teammates as they are from him and that's earned him respect.

"They have a base here -- a base with guys who have been here who understand how to win who have been in winning situations," McNabb said. "It's not just me out here running after practice. It's the offensive line out here. The DBs spend extra time. The receivers are out here. It's things like that, that stand out, that bring you back into that feeling of being in a winning organization."

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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