- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs yesterday announced quarterback Patrick Ramsey will start in 2005, ending speculation that the Redskins would dip into the free agent market for another veteran starter.

Ramsey was given the job midway through the Nov.14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, by which point Mark Brunell had bottomed out. Although Ramsey started much of 2003 and is a former first-round draft pick, there were major questions about whether he could adapt his gunslinging mentality to Gibbs’ conservative offense.

Five weeks later, Ramsey has made dramatic strides, upping his completion percentage and reducing his interceptions and sacks. That progress apparently convinced Gibbs not to shop this spring for a free agent like rising star Drew Brees.

“We’re starting with Patrick, and that’s who we’re going with,” Gibbs said. “He’s our guy. We’re hoping that he continues to progress.”

In fact, Gibbs doesn’t intend to make any switches to the quarterback roster, leaving Brunell No.2 and Tim Hasselbeck No.3.

“I like ‘em,” Gibbs said.

Impressing Gibbs most has been Ramsey’s growing ability to limit mistakes. Quarterbacks coach Jack Burns called the passer’s role in this offense a “grown man’s game,” partly because Gibbs likes the conservative style and partly because the Redskins trust their defense, the NFL’s second-ranked unit, and punting game so much.

Ramsey has gone 2-3 as a starter, completing 65.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns. While he had five interceptions and seven sacks in two relief appearances, he has just three picks and 11 sacks in five starts. The Redskins, who didn’t crack the 20-point barrier in their first 11 games, have done so twice in the past three weeks.

The strong play and spark for the team, along with Gibbs’ preference for continuity, apparently give Ramsey the nod for 2005.

“When somebody goes in and starts playing good, the way I look at it, he’s earned the right,” Gibbs said. “I’m kind of reluctant, as you can tell, to pull guys in and out. I gave him a shot, and we’re going [forward] — until something would happen to tell me we need to make a change.”

Around midseason, such a scenario appeared improbable. Back then, with Brunell stumbling toward his 49.8 completion percentage and 63.9 rating, it seemed like Ramsey might never start. In fact, there was speculation whether Gibbs feared playing Ramsey or perhaps even disliked him.

But Gibbs believed the Redskins’ offensive struggles went beyond Brunell’s poor play, and he wanted to give his starter every chance to be comfortable. Yesterday Gibbs re-emphasized the idea of all-around offensive performance, arguing that the unit’s better play these days is helping Ramsey succeed.

“As an offensive team, when [Brunell] was playing early in the year, we weren’t playing as well — all the way around, as far as blocking things, running, doing all the things we have to do,” Gibbs said.

Brunell’s seven-year, $43million contract remains a major issue for the Redskins. But despite the expense of keeping Brunell as the backup, it probably doesn’t make sense for Washington to cut him this offseason.

First, cutting Brunell would lead to a sizeable salary cap hit either in 2005 or 2006. By keeping him an extra year, the Redskins could delay and reduce that hit. Second, Brunell is scheduled to make $2million in salary and bonus next year. The going rate for a veteran backup quarterback isn’t much less — about $1million a season.

But money, at least at this point, doesn’t seem to factor into Gibbs’ thinking. The coach said he trusts Brunell to step up if Ramsey were injured.

“I know one thing: If we get in a game here down the stretch, you won’t have a guy going in that’s panicked,” Gibbs said. “The guy’s got tons of experience, and I think he could bounce in right now and play extremely well.”

Notes: — Cornerback Shawn Springs, who sat out the 49ers game while recovering from a Dec. 12 concussion, was evaluated yesterday and cleared for light practice tomorrow. The Redskins are optimistic he will be able to play Sunday at Dallas. …

Cornerback Fred Smoot won the B.J. Blanchard “Good Guy” Award, given annually to the Redskin who best helps the media do their job. The award is based on a vote by reporters who regularly cover the Redskins.

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