Mike McMahon hasn't heard a lot about people thinking the Vikings could be in trouble if starting quarterback Brad Johnson is injured this season, but he has heard some of it.
"You hear it through the grapevine. You turn on the TV or you turn on ESPN and you hear someone say, ‘He's not an NFL quarterback.' I don't read the papers and I try not to watch too much, but eventually somehow it gets back to you," McMahon said.
"It's one of those things where it's gut-check time. It's like, hey, is this guy right or am I going to prove him wrong? I've had a lot of ups and downs in my career, but I just keep on fighting. It's just a matter of fact that I believe in myself still and the minute I stop believing in myself is when I'm done with this game."
McMahon is entering his sixth year in the league, and each of those previous five seasons were an opportunity for him to either prove himself on the field or learn from others off the field. In some instances, that learning might have hurt him when he tried to model his game after quarterbacks with different skills.
He started out as a fifth-round draft choice of the Detroit Lions out of Rutgers, and, ironically, his first career win came against the Vikings in a December game that also yielded the Lions' first win of the season. In that game, McMahon's legs helped earn him the win, as the athletic quarterback ran 12 times for 74 yards and a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
In each of his first two seasons with Detroit, he had at least 115 pass attempts in part-time duty. It took Johnson into his fifth NFL season before he got even close to that sort an opportunity.
But Johnson is precisely the kind of quarterback McMahon is looking to for hope that he will begin to flourish. He keeps in mind the early struggles and later successes of Super Bowl quarterbacks like Rich Gannon and Steve Young, whose careers started slowly but eventually flowered into MVP seasons and Super Bowl appearances.
"I think a lot of time with quarterbacks, it's finding the right fit, the right time," McMahon said. "Look at a guy like Tom Brady. He was at the right place at the right time. His first year, he didn't really do too much and let the defense win the Super Bowl. He got his completions. But you look at him as the years went and he really improved himself as a quarterback."
McMahon is hoping to gain the trust of his coaches in Minnesota and thereby get more opportunities, and he believes that the more time he gets, the better he'll be.
In fact, it would seem that he has already gained some level of trust from head coach Brad Childress, who was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia last year when McMahon was forced to start the final seven games of the year in place of the injured Donovan McNabb.
McMahon had a rough go of it in Philadelphia, completing only 45.4 percent of his passes for five touchdowns and eight interceptions, but Childress must have kept the big picture in mind when calling on McMahon to be his backup with the Vikings this year.
"It was hard because they came off an NFC Championship year and I went there and the quarterbacks coach there at the time was like, ‘Hey, you'll be fine. You'll be fine.' Then I got into the first day of minicamp and I was like, ‘What the hell does this word mean or that word mean,'" McMahon said of his transition to the Eagles after four years in Detroit. "It took a couple weeks for me to get the verbage down. It was the same stuff, it was just different verbage. It was just a process of me going into the huddle and instead of saying one word, saying another word, just understanding the different meanings. In the heat of the moment a lot of times you'll say things."
McMahon is 3-11 as a starter and went 2-5 (the same record Daunte Culpepper had last year before getting hurt in Minnesota) during the most extensive stretch of his career last year. Injuries, McMahon said, had a lot to do with Eagles' struggles late in the season.
"We didn't have the best situation, we didn't have everyone healthy, we didn't have all of our receivers and we were missing (running back Brian) Westbrook. It was a chance for me to get in there and battle it out no matter what I can do. I'm going to do the best I can do and we'll see what happens," McMahon said. "I wish I could have performed better. There were a few situations here and there I wish I could take back, but … you've got to move on.
"It was tough, but I was proud of myself being able to fight through it. I was banged up at the end of the year as well. Being able to fight through it, a lot of times I caught myself feeling like I had to win every game. But you don't have to win every down. Yeah, third down sometimes the defense is going to beat you; you've got to check it down, punt the ball and not try and force everything and throw an interception. Just trying to make better decisions, that's what I'm trying to do this camp. For the most part, I think I've done that. I've only had one interception and it was pretty much a heck of a play by Darren Sharper."
Many of his struggles in Philadelphia were attributed to him getting out of the pocket and forcing the ball, according to a source with knowledge of his play last year. McMahon says some of that happened because he tried to emulate McNabb and just didn't have the same arm as the Pro Bowl quarterback.
"Donovan McNabb, who had a similar-type playing style as me, moving around and throwing the ball downfield – Don's got a strong arm, he can fire the football in there sometimes and he can get away with some stuff. Sometimes I would try things and I can't get away with it," said McMahon, who is learning from a more experienced, more patient Johnson this year. "When I look at a guy like Brad, who is not as fast and doesn't really move, doesn't really have that great strong arm, but I'll tell you what – he's in the league for a reason. He's won a Super Bowl, he's still here and he makes some great decisions.
"He moves the chains, so I look at him and every bit I can I'm looking at him in practice. What does he do, what does he see, why does he do this? If I don't understand it, I'll go up and (ask), ‘Brad, what did you see here? What were you thinking here?' It's definitely helped with my decision-making process."
Johnson, a former ninth-round pick, has turned into a quarterback who throws the ball away when a play doesn't develop as hoped – even if that happens in practice. The philosophy is that if a quarterback forces passes in practice, he'll do it in games, McMahon said.
McMahon, the student, is still telling himself to throw the ball away more in practice, and Childress is also reminding McMahon that whenever he struggles, he needs to get back to the basics and play within the scheme of the offense
"Whenever I tried to make too much happen, I start to get in trouble," McMahon admits.
He's hoping to improve upon that this year and, in the process, change the opinions of those that doubt him.
McMahon Looking to Prove, Improve
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