- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2001

The hairline is thinning, with flecks of gray lining the temples. Time is growing short for Washington Redskins quarterback Jeff George.

George once was known for second chances, but that was three teams ago. Great talent always finds a home, and the Redskins are giving George his shot in Washington.

Fortunately, a growing family and religion appear to have mellowed the former bad boy known for a 1996 sideline shouting incident with Atlanta coach June Jones. Playing for four teams in 10 years left George ready to settle in Washington last season, even if the first year meant backing up Brad Johnson.

George wants two things serenity and success. The alpha male seems willing to accept a lesser role to achieve them. He'll trade some downfield passes for possession throws and more carries by running back Stephen Davis. George doesn't have to be No. 1 for the Redskins to rebound from last year's 8-8 record.

"I want a championship," he said. "When you're 22, 23 years old, you sign a big deal. You have all this money. You don't know where you are in your life. I know where I'm at [now]. I have my priorities set. I have my religion, family and football. If you keep your priorities in that order, you'll be successful."

During George's stops in Indianapolis, Atlanta, Oakland and Minnesota, his first year in each town often was the best. The No. 1 overall selection won the 1990 Rookie of the Year Award. He eclipsed NFL records by Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas in his four seasons with Indianapolis before being traded to Atlanta.

George posted a career-best season for Atlanta in 1995, but run-ins with Jones led to his release after the following season. George rebounded by leading AFC passers in 1997 with Oakland, yet ticked off owner Al Davis by saying he wouldn't play the final four games because of a groin injury. The free agent then posted a career-high 94.2 pass rating in 10 games with Minnesota in 1999, but the Vikings went with youth last year and George came to Washington.

Redskins coach Norv Turner so opposed signing George in April 2000 that team sources said it essentially ended his relationship with owner Dan Snyder. Interim coach Terry Robiskie benched George in the season finale after claiming the quarterback ignored his play-calling. George was only 1-4 as a starter as the team floundered after midseason.

Now Turner and Robiskie are gone, and coach Marty Schottenheimer seems convinced George will run the new offense effectively after some initial reservations. With no experienced backup, George is clearly the Redskins' quarterback. He is learning that the job makes him second only to the Oval Office occupant as a topic of discussion among Washingtonians. Win and all past sins are forgiven. Lose and they'll fuel the train out of town.

"There is a sense of pride just being a Redskins quarterback," George said. "You want to carry on the torch and become a championship quarterback. People are more focused [on quarterbacks] in this city. You're looked at on and off the field."

George spent most of the offseason in daily meetings and long practices. While other players were vacationing, George and backup Todd Husak threw to coaches and team employees. However, it wasn't long before they were joined by teammates during five weeks of light workouts.

"This is probably one of the hardest offseasons I've had in my 12-year career," George said. "The main thing is everyone stayed here learning the offense. Practices weren't mandatory, but everybody was here. You need that chemistry."

George isn't afraid of Schottenheimer's modified West Coast offense. He has played in nine offensive systems, including three since 1999. Still, George sometimes wonders whether his career would have been better had he stayed in the same scheme for several seasons.

"The Elways, Montanas and Marinos were in their systems for years," he said. "When you're learning new offenses year-in, year-out, you're not going to be successful. You might run the same offense, but the terminology is totally different. I've been able to adjust to a lot of systems, but the minute you think you know it all, something comes up and you're back to square one."

Known for first looking downfield with the sweetest arm since Sonny Jurgensen nearly 30 years ago, George now must check his close targets first. It's not an easy change. Schottenheimer challenged George to a game during June workouts in which the coach gained a point every time George looked downfield first during drills. It made George concentrate more on intended short-range options.

"Everyone wants to think this offense is dink and dunk, but there's always somebody going up top and you have the option to do it," he said. "You have to know when to take shots. Is that a negative, to throw the ball upfield?"

Still, Schottenheimer didn't abandon plans to sign a veteran backup until George proved he could handle the new system.

"There has been tremendous progress on Jeff's part," Schottenheimer said. "He's moving up into the pocket, which is where your security to throw the ball is in terms of being able to get accurate passes off."

At 33, George wants to think long term for the first time, perhaps about finishing his career with Washington in the same system. However, it may take a standout season for him to remain next year as the Redskins continue rebuilding with younger players. Yet George has relatively low mileage on a body that has endured 128 games.

"I ran pretty hard when I was young, but I feel better now than when I was 24, 25," he said. "If you take care of yourself when you get older, you don't know how long you can play. I think I have another five, six years left."

That's why Schottenheimer has harped on George to rely more on fundamentals and less on natural ability.

"Some guys, early in their career, are gifted and can get away with it," Schottenheimer said. "But if you have a reasonably long career, those skills are going to erode or diminish, and you better have fundamentals and techniques or you're lost."

Meanwhile, George doesn't mind facing his 12th training camp. The passing years have taught him to enjoy the game while he can. After all, there are only so many second chances.

"You appreciate football, you appreciate life," he said. "That's been my philosophy the last few years, and it's been successful. I don't care what tomorrow brings as long as I work hard and do what I'm supposed to do today."

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