- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Granted, it was only an exhibition game. But the two passes Jeff George threw to the Tampa Bay Bucs the other night might be two of the most significant passes the Redskins throw all season. Why? Because the last thing this team needs is a quarterback controversy, and as long as George keeps getting picked off, there won't be one.

Until the Redskins' 13-12 loss to the Bucs, most of the attention in training camp had been focused on Brad Johnson's interceptions (15 and counting through yesterday). A couple of sharp preseason performances by George, you figured, and Johnson would be hanging on for dear life. Jeff is, after all, Dan Snyder's Guy, one of the free agent baubles he snapped up in the spring. Johnson is merely a hold-over from the previous regime though I do seem to remember him making the Pro Bowl last year… .

Anyway, the suspicion is that Johnson is on a very short leash. Norv Turner has said all along that it's Brad's job to lose, but it might be the owner who decides when the job has been lost. And with Dan the Man, these things tend to happen sooner rather than later which might explain Johnson's less-than-sterling play so far. When the club brings in Jeff George to back you up, it ain't exactly a vote of confidence.

Johnson's numbers Friday night were nothing to get excited about 4 of 7 for 28 yards but at least he didn't toss the ball to anybody wearing a pewter helmet. George not only did it twice, but one of the interceptions was in the end zone, which put a definite crimp in his evening.

To which I say: Hurrah. Had George come out and shredded the Tampa Bay secondary, we might have had a serious quarterback controversy on our hands. And few teams have ever benefited from a situation like that. Coaches talk about the need to minimize distractions; well, a quarterback controversy is just about the biggest distraction of all.

Quarterback controversies are great for sports columnists, talk show hosts and water cooler conversation, but they aren't real great for football teams. Seriously, name the last Super Bowl winner that had an ongoing battle at the quarterback spot. (Answer: The '87 Redskins, with Jay Schroeder and Doug Williams. And that was a screwy strike season.)

You want your backup quarterback to be good, but you don't want him to be so good that he creates uncertainty about who should be the starter. That can be divisive, turn the defense against the offense or one receiver against another. And the quarterback is supposed to pull the team together, not apart. The Cowboys got caught up in two such controversies early in Troy Aikman's career, you may recall, and they weren't resolved until Steve Walsh was traded and Steve Beuerlein left as a free agent.

Norv Turner was in Dallas during the Aikman-Beuerlein tug-of-war in '91, and he understands that "when you have two quarterbacks the caliber we do, there's going to be a lot of discussion. But with me and our coaching staff, there's no discussion. Brad is our quarterback, and Jeff is the backup. Do I think Jeff is less of a quarterback because of what happened Friday night? No. Jeff is a very talented quarterback. I don't think he'll throw those interceptions very often… . I think as we get along in the season the situation will stabilize, and we'll have a very good starter and a very good backup."

After Friday night, the Redskins may finally be on the road to stabilization. It has been pretty wild around Redskin Park since camp opened. There are Johnson fans and George boosters and much monitoring of their competition which is only natural when you have two quarterbacks who have been to the Pro Bowl. It hasn't been this exciting since the days of Sonny and Billy.

But things are beginning to sort themselves out, as they have a habit of doing in the preseason. The incumbent avoided the Big Mistake against the Bucs; the challenger, perhaps feeling the need to impress, threw a couple of interceptions. And suddenly Jeff George looks less like the starter-in-waiting and more like a guy who's trying to get a handle on his fifth offense in five years.

And all it took was two passes. Two passes that didn't go according to plan. Two of the biggest passes, possibly, the Redskins will throw all year. Norv Turner doesn't need a quarterback controversy no coach does. And now maybe he won't have one.

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