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McNabb debuts with Vikings

Donovan McNabb. Photo by Brian Wieriam, DL Newspapers.

The torch has officially been passed from No. 4 to No. 5.

It took a little more time for it to happen Thursday during the Minnesota Vikings training camp in Mankato, but eventually it did happen.

Due to the NFL players voting on ratifying the new collective bargaining agreement and it taking time to tally up the votes, all the free agent veterans who signed contracts this past offseason had to wait.

About a half hour that is.

After all the Viking players walked across Stadium Avenue to the Minnesota State University Mankato football practice facility -- including McNabb in full gear -- it became a waiting game.

Breaking the news that the players voted to ratify the CBA was Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, who came out on the practice facility yelling out to McNabb to "Go ahead Donovan!" during quarterback drills.

McNabb, who had just been watching rookie Christian Ponder, second-year Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar go through passing drills, put his helmet on (not without a squirt a water bottle from Webb) and took over the No. 1 duties as the 2011 Viking quarterback.

Brett Favre can now go back to cutting his grass.

"I'm just getting the timing down now, but it was good to start back up," McNabb said.

First-year head coach Leslie Frazier said he liked what he saw from his new starting QB, despite some rustiness which was shown by McNabb.

"I liked what I saw out there," Frazier said. "There's still a lot of work to be done, but that's why we are down here in Mankato. Every team was in the same situation, so it was nice to get all the guys into practice today."

McNabb showed one of his strengths during a 7-on-7 drill against the first-team defense, when he hit wide receiver Bernard Berrian in stride, as the Viking ball-catcher slipped a tackle and scooted for a touchdown down the sideline.

"It looked like Donovan had good command of the offense and he just jumped in there and did a good jump," Frazier said. "You have to start somewhere. He'll catch up to speed like all quarterbacks."

One of McNabb's targets will be third-year vet Percy Harvin, who after Sidney Rice's departure, becomes the Vikings' top receiver.

McNabb sees the potential in Harvin, despite his smaller size in a league full of long-armed, long-bodied receivers.

"I've played with guys like Desean Jackson and Santana Moss, who play big, but just have smaller stature and I see no reason why Percy can't be a multiple Pro Bowler who can haul in 80, 90 or a 100 catches.

"That's not to take away the talent from the other receivers, because we have a couple of good tight ends (Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph) along with Bernard (Berrian), Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins."

With Rice leaving for a five-year $41 million, $18 million guaranteed contract to Seattle, Harvin has immersed as the Vikings' top receiver.

Although he doesn't fit the mold as a No. 1 receiver due to his 5-11, 184-pound stature, his grit and toughness in the yards after the catch department makes him a legit one.

"My role has increased (after Rice left) and the way the scheme is from (offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave), the receivers will be very interchangeable," Harvin said. "You can see the tight ends split wide, me in the slot or splitting out wide or Bernard doing either. This will be a very versatile offense."

Harvin's role has not been defined yet from Musgrave, but he will definitely be a big part of what the Vikes will do offensively this year.

"He is not a big 6-1 or 6-2, or 6-4 Randy Moss type that's going to win outside versus a corner all day long," Musgrave said. "We're going to do a good job with Percy by moving him around, making defenses have a tough time identifying what his role is on that specific concept and then simply get the ball in his hands.

"The key is getting him his touches to let him do his thing."

Jenkins also proved Thursday he can go up and get the ball with his 6-4 length. He made several catches in which the defensive back didn't have a chance to defend.

The former Atlanta Falcon wideout was never considered a speedster, in which he will be paired with Berrian on the outside to stretch the field and play to McNabb's strength of throwing the ball downfield.

"(Jenkins) is fast at the top end," Musgrave said. "He has the size to go up and get it. Even though (Berrian and Jenkins) are getting a little bit long in the tooth, we feel like that will be a part of their role is to be able to stretch the field and give us a chance to throw the ball down the field and achieve some chunks."

The passing game was obviously featured Thursday with the debut of McNabb, along with the fact that Adrian Peterson was not present due to him being absent for the birth of his first child.

But make no doubt about it, Peterson will be the featured player in the Vikings' offense this year.

It will be up to McNabb and his core of receivers to take the pressure off of Peterson and force defenses to play him up square, thus not stacking the box with eight to nine players.

But for now, McNabb is yet another aging great to play the most important position for the Vikings.

Viking notes

* Another free agent veteran signing who was able to take to the field was left tackle Charlie Johnson, who was signed away from the Indianapolis Colts.

Johnson started 49 games for the Colts, protecting Peyton Manning's blindside.

He replaces freshly-cut 10-year starter Bryant McKinnie, who reported to camp overweight and out of shape.

"I am friends with (McKinnie) and he is one of the top tackles in the league," McNabb said. "But I am confident in my offensive line and I hope to install confidence in them and have them have confidence in me behind center."

*Rookie quarterback and No. 12 selection Christian Ponder took some snaps with the second-string team after McNabb took over the starting duties.

Webb started as the No. 1 quarterback, but fell to No. 3 later.

But there still isn't a shift in QB order, since Frazier said Webb still has the No. 2 position in his press conference.

*Ponder did have a couple of nice passes, which displayed his accuracy.

The first came when he threaded a pass to Emmanuel Arceneaux between two defenders on his receiver's back shoulder on the sideline.

The second came when he hit Rudolph down the seam in traffic and the second-round tight end made a spectacular grab.