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Brunell having a good run

- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

Even though his runs have come at key times, have gained key yards and resulted in key scores, Mark Brunell is not buying the theory that opponents should be concerned with his ability to scramble for big plays.

To hear him tell it, he's merely a player who is running only when it's obvious, he's strictly a pocket and roll-out passer and the days of zig-zagging around the field to dodge defenders are over.

A collection of his thoughts during the last two weeks: "I had one run for a few yards. ... It's a last option. ... It's not something we're going to hang our hat on. ... To tell you the truth, I'm getting lucky. ... If I told you it was an instinct thing, I would sound like I'm all that."

To which his teammates sigh collectively.

"He says luck?" right guard Randy Thomas said. "I'm not sure about that."

Added left tackle Chris Samuels: "It has to be instincts because he's been around a long time."

It's probably equal parts skill and good fortune and the results are indisputable. In the last three games, Brunell has scrambled for gains of 25, 18 and 14 yards. Entering Sunday's game at Kansas City, he has rushed 15 times for 66 yards. Last season, he had 37 yards on 11 attempts in the first four games.

Although he's not the same nimble quarterback who drove defenses crazy in Jacksonville and averaged 53 carries for 275 yards from 1995 to 2002 (and scored 13 touchdowns), Brunell is showing his 35-year-old hamstrings still have some spring.

"He's smart and when the field is wide open, so he figured, why not take it?" Redskins center Casey Rabach said. "He's not Michael Vick or anything like that back there, but he can get some yards."

During his first two seasons in Jacksonville, running was a staple of Brunell's game. In 1994, he rushed 67 times for 480 yards and four touchdowns, followed by 80 rushes for 396 yards and three touchdowns in 1995.

"When you get into this league, things move pretty quick and there's a lot of speed and guys are flying around," he said. "As time goes on, it slows down and you're able to go through your progression and then run. Early on, if the first guy wasn't there, it was, 'Go.' You have to know the right time to run."

Said Musgrave: "Early in his career, Steve Young would look to No. 1 in his progression and then run. After three, four years, Steve got to No. 1 and No. 2 -- from Jerry Rice to Brent Jones and then would run. And when he got really experienced, he went through three progressions before running."

As Brunell became more comfortable in the pocket, his rushing numbers dropped, falling from 80 carries to 48 in 1996.

Injuries limited Brunell's rushing attempts during the last few seasons. But he's healthy now, and the Redskins have used designed roll outs to take advantage of his throw-on-the-run skills. And when the protection breaks down or the receivers are covered, he has showed the legs still have a couple more miles.

Brunell's first big run came against Dallas. On third-and-27, he rushed for 25 yards. Five plays later, he hit Santana Moss for a 39-yard touchdown. The Redskins won 14-13.

Against Seattle in overtime, the Redskins faced a third-and-9 at the Redskins 37 and Brunell slipped past one Seahawks defender and rushed for 18 yards. Five plays later, the Redskins won 20-17.

Last week, Brunell gained 14 yards on a third-and-8 play from the Redskins 25. Although the play looked like a designed run when the Redskins sent four receivers on outside patterns, Brunell said it wasn't. The Broncos rushed five and their linebackers floated outside, leaving the middle of the field wide open. Brunell headed up the field.

"I could have stayed longer," he said. "David Patten ran a nice corner route and he was open so I had either one."

When Brunell takes off, his position coach's heart does flutter.

"But in good way," Musgrave said. "Those plays are game changers because they've come in crucial spots."

The long gains have been beneficial and thrilling, but as he enters his 130th start, Brunell knows that to stay in the lineup he must pick his spots. As Rabach said, No. 8 isn't like Atlanta's No. 7.

"You have two, three, four receivers and once you go through your progression and nothing is there, it's either throw it away or run," Brunell said. "Hopefully a lane presents itself or if you've got a free run and are able to shake a guy, you get some yards.