- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2004

The words Joe Gibbs keeps using to describe his offense — and particularly his quarterbacks — during the first week of training camp are not exactly ones that suggest the Washington Redskins coach is satisfied with what he sees.

“Kind of rough,” Gibbs said for the umpteenth time yesterday. “I’ve been describing it that way every day, but that’s how it feels. We’ll see. We’ll try and start polishing things up in the next two or three days.”

With six days of training camp complete and four remaining until the nationally televised exhibition opener against the Denver Broncos, the Redskins’ offense has yet to start clicking.

And as will most certainly be the case throughout the preseason, all eyes remain on quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey.

The two combatants in this year’s starting quarterback derby have not done much to distinguish themselves. It’s not that they are playing particularly poorly — it’s just that they both are not playing particularly well.

The offense seemed to reach its nadir Wednesday, when the entire unit looked sluggish in the wilting afternoon heat. Things improved a bit during yesterday’s session, with both Brunell and Ramsey connecting on a handful of sharp-looking passes, but both concede they’ve got a long way to go.

“Yesterday wasn’t our best day,” Brunell said. “Perhaps guys were tired or something, but it wasn’t our best effort. Today picked up a bit, a little more sharp. We are getting better, but we’ll have to see what kind of start we get on Monday.”

Brunell, the soon-to-be 34-year-old whom the Redskins traded for and signed to a seven-year, $43million contract this offseason, will start Monday night’s Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. Gibbs said he plans to start the 25-year-old Ramsey Aug.14 against Carolina, then rotate the two quarterbacks through the rest of the preseason before anointing a starter.

Conventional wisdom for months has said Brunell’s experience (and salary) practically guarantee him the starting assignment in the Sept.12 season opener against Tampa Bay. Gibbs has refuted that notion from day one, insisting the best player will get the job.

At the moment, you could make a case for Ramsey to get the nod.

Though he’s been far from perfect on the practice field, the third-year pro has shown a few more flashes of brilliance than his veteran teammate. Ramsey said he has a firm grasp of Gibbs’ offense after an intense offseason program; he hasn’t taken full advantage of it yet, though.

“We know our assignments, it’s just a matter of executing them,” Ramsey said. “I do feel like we’re getting better, but I certainly think we can get much better than we’ve been.”

Gibbs has been careful not to offer too much evaluation of the two quarterbacks through the first week of camp. He pointed out that Brunell and Ramsey have yet to run the offense at full-speed or face a full-contact defense aside from a handful of plays so far.

And, as both Gibbs and the two quarterbacks know, there will be plenty to evaluate from Monday’s game. As good or as bad as a player might look in practice, perceptions can change quickly once the exhibition season starts.

“The games, that’s what it all comes down to,” Brunell said. “You know, we have so many practices. There’s good ones, there’s bad ones. But it’s the games where you really have to shine.”

If Brunell is hoping to make an impression on the Redskins coaching staff against Denver, he must make the most of every snap he gets. As is typically the case with the first week of the preseason, starters rarely remain in the game for more than two or three offensive series.

“You don’t get many opportunities, so you’ve got to take advantage of what you have,” Brunell said. “You’ve got to be efficient, whatever it takes to move the team down the field.

“But it’s just the first [preseason game]. We’ve got four more after that. So we’ve got to be patient. We’ve got to understand that during the course of this preseason, there may be some three-and-outs and some moments where we struggle. But I think we’re going to be all right. We’re getting better, and I think we’ll continue to get better.”

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