Is Patrick Ramsey finally ready to take the next step?
That might be the Washington Redskins' biggest question this weekend as they conduct minicamp at Redskin Park. After three inconsistent and ultimately mediocre NFL seasons, Ramsey appears likely either to become a solid pro starter or head out of town a first-round bust.
Dogged to date by inexperience, Steve Spurrier's dubious blocking schemes, foot surgery and the acquisition of big-money veteran Mark Brunell, Ramsey now is weathering the drafting of Auburn star Jason Campbell in the first round. With two years left on a rookie contract that makes him tradable next spring, Ramsey stands at a career crossroads.
"I'm certainly as confident as I've ever been as a quarterback in the NFL," Ramsey said yesterday. "I think it's also time for me to play my best as a quarterback in the NFL. That's what I'm working every day to do."
Since being selected 32nd overall in 2002, Ramsey has yet to start more than 11 games or post a rating of more than 75.8 in a season. Both of those marks came in 2003, when he absorbed 30 sacks in Spurrier's offense before giving way to Tim Hasselbeck and undergoing surgery on his right foot.
Last year Ramsey replaced Brunell in mid-November and played well enough in an extremely conservative scheme to earn Gibbs' backing for 2005. But the arrival of Campbell clouded Ramsey's status as "quarterback of the future." The weeks since have required even greater doses of Ramsey's signature traits: toughness, maturity and patience.
"I think he's done a very good job of letting it be known he's not bothered by [this situation]," said right tackle Jon Jansen, one of Ramsey's closest friends on the team. "Obviously, it wouldn't be his first choice. But he's going to do what he can do to control his situation, and that's play football."
That apparently is going well. By all accounts (second-hand, of course, because the meaningful parts of Redskins practices are closed to reporters), Ramsey has played some of his best football this offseason.
"If you ask me, Pat is night and day from last year," running back Clinton Portis said. "Pat stepped in last year at a time we needed a spark and performed well. This year, Pat looks like Peyton Manning. He's not a Peyton Manning, but the difference in him -- the leadership role, where he's putting the ball, the accuracy, the patience he has -- you can tell he's comfortable."
The improvement apparently is coming in two key areas. Mentally, Ramsey has a much better understanding of Gibbs' offense. He is reading the field better, reacting more quickly and anticipating opportunities. And physically, Ramsey finally seems to be addressing his greatest weakness: an inability to throw touch passes.
"There's no question he can throw an out. He can fire things. He's extremely strong," Gibbs said. "But then there comes a time where you've got to pass it. You've got to get it up over the top. You've got to hit something deep. You've got to put air under the ball. If there's been any one thing that he's done a good job with, I'd say it's that."
Also expected to help Ramsey this season is the reconstruction of Gibbs' offense. To open up the scheme and complete more deep passes, the coach tweaked the playbook and added speedy wide receivers Santana Moss and David Patten. After ranking 30th in total offense and 31st in scoring a year ago, Washington expects to attack with some legitimacy.
Interestingly, though, Ramsey doesn't consider the changes as significant as what has stayed the same: the coaching staff and the underpinnings of schemes.
"Things have stayed pretty consistent -- in my opinion, maybe more consistent this offseason than ever," Ramsey said. "We did add some receivers and lost a couple, but at the same time we've got some guys out there who fit our system really well. So it makes the adjustment that much easier."
But looking ahead, the road is littered with potential pitfalls for Ramsey. A slow start to training camp could spark questions. A tepid preseason could ignite calls for Campbell or Brunell. And a poor September could launch a full-blown quarterback controversy.
Only Ramsey can determine where he heads from this crossroads.
"I don't think he's made any bones about it," Jansen said. "He's the starting quarterback this year, he wants to be the starting quarterback for a long time and he's going to go out and prove it."