- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

Washington Redskins quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel left Redskin Park together yesterday. Matthews is the starter, but Wuerffel never seems to be too far away.

They have been inseparable since they arrived in the offseason from Chicago, where both were backups last season. The Redskins traded a throwaway defensive tackle, Jerry DeLoach, to Houston for Wuerffel after the Texans picked him in the expansion draft. Matthews signed seven weeks later as a free agent.

Wuerffel and Matthews played for Redskins coach Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida, and it was long expected one would emerge as the starter over first-round pick Patrick Ramsey.

But which one? That wasn't decided until the final minutes of the preseason. Spurrier told them shortly before leaving the field after the Redskins' 28-14 loss to the New England Patriots on Thursday that Matthews would start the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept.8. Wuerffel, the front-runner for the job, was derailed by three fumbles against the Patriots.

For now, at least. Matthews and Wuerffel believe Spurrier will change quarterbacks if the team plays poorly. Whether that takes one game or one season, Matthews knows not to be secure in the job. Injuries twice cost him starting spots in Chicago.

"You never know what [Spurriers] thinking," Matthews said. "If I don't play well, he has every right to make a change."

Said Wuerffel: "When you're a backup guy with Coach, it gives you a better chance [to play] than other teams."

Spurrier downplayed the likelihood of quarterback changes. Known for changing passers at Florida, Spurrier never pulled Matthews after promoting him from No.5. Then again, Matthews set 50 SEC marks, was 18-0 at home and took three SEC titles. He was followed by Wuerffel, who captured the 1996 national championship and won the Heisman Trophy.

"As long as Shane's playing well and thinking clearly and not doing anything too, too bad, he'll stay in there," Spurrier said.

Certainly, Matthews and Wuerffel won't have a bitter relationship since they are longtime friends. Think Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer, who each openly supported the other.

"Shane's played very well throughout the preseason. He deserves a shot," Wuerffel said. "As a competitor, I would love to have gotten that same shot, so in that sense it's frustrating. I'll be as supportive as I can."

Matthews remains the even-tempered country boy, no matter the stakes.

"I guess different people react different ways, but I approach it the same as the starter or backup," Matthews said. "It's kind of similar to how I play golf. I feel like I'm a pretty good golfer. I've won a couple of those celebrity events. There's pressure on you, and when you make bad shots you just have to forget about it."

"It's the same way playing quarterback. You're going to make bad throws. Nobody plays a perfect game. We all wish we could, but it's just not going to happen."

Matthews made a few bad throws over the preseason. He tossed five interceptions, including one near the goal line intended for receiver Chris Doering against the Patriots. However, he also threw six touchdown passes and was consistent against starters and backups over five weeks. The Redskins scored all of their 19 preseason points against opposing starting defenses under Matthews, but he also threw three touchdowns against Pittsburgh's reserves.

"I think I played well at times, especially against the opposing first-team defenses," Matthews said. "I still need to pick up my game a little bit, and I think it will once we get an actual game plan together."

Matthews offers more deep options than Wuerffel, though he managed the short game well, too. He expects the long ball to result in turnovers, so possession passes could become commonplace at times.

"This preseason I've thrown the ball more downfield than I have in nine years, and when you do that you're going to throw interceptions," Matthews said. "Teams are going to give us some crazy looks, and we have to be patient at times, even if we have to dink and dunk our way down the field."

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