- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier may need the BCS bowl formula to pick his starting quarterback.
Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel and Sage Rosenfels are competing for two spots the starting job and one backup position, with the other backup slot likely reserved for first-round pick Patrick Ramsey.
But the pecking order among Matthews, Wuerffel and Rosenfels seems to rotate daily. Coach Steve Spurrier won't choose his starter until the final preseason game against the New England Patriots on Aug.29, and each player's stock seemingly rises and falls like the Dow Jones.
"We haven't ranked them yet," Spurrier said. "We're just going to let everybody play and two or three weeks from now we'll put them in order."
Matthews appeared to be the front-runner ahead of Wuerffel, with Rosenfels third following the first 10 days of training camp. Then came Wuerffel's three touchdown passes and Rosenfels' two scores in the 38-7 preseason victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.
Suddenly, fans anointed Wuerffel the starter even though his big numbers came against backups who likely will be preseason cuts soon. With a shaky first series that included a horribly under-thrown interception, Rosenfels was a tepid second behind Wuerffel.
Now Matthews needs a sharp outing when he starts against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday to keep up in a race that probably won't be impacted by Ramsey's signing yesterday.
But the preseason stat sheet is grossly misleading. Wuerffel hasn't thrown a regular-season pass in three years, but his 139.8 pass rating after the opener would be nearly double Tony Banks' 71.3 last year. Rosenfels' 92.1 would be the best since Mark Rypien's 97.9 en route to winning the 1991 championship.
Obviously, the numbers are skewed. Rosenfels only completed two of eight passes against the 49ers' starters before he fattened up on reserves, completing eight of 12 attempts for the two touchdowns. Wuerffel scored 24 points in four drives against second- and third-teamers as the Redskins won by their biggest preseason margin since 1976.
"It was one of the more impressive performances I've ever seen by a whole team in a preseason game," Matthews said.
But the 49ers admittedly weren't worried about losing. They could have cared less, pulling their starters after two series while Rosenfels and Wuerffel enjoyed the protections of Washington's starting offensive line against the 49ers' backups.
Matthews probably will play most of the first half against the Panthers, who lost their final 15 games last season. Carolina's low talent level will dip even further for Rosenfels when he relieves Matthews. Wuerffel might play the fourth quarter and Ramsey won't debut until at least Pittsburgh on Aug.18.
The Panthers will be fresh in their opener and may leave their starters in longer than the 49ers, but they're not nearly as talented. The stage could be set for a Redskins letdown after traveling to Osaka, Japan, for their opener and back. The emotional pitch and talent levels are among the many factors Spurrier must weigh.
"Obviously, you can't get four quarterbacks ready to play. It's hard to get three," Spurrier said. "We've been rotating three and it's worked out pretty well, but now it's getting closer to the season and you start rotating two. As a quarterbacks coach, I've always rotated two the backup guy gets a lot of work in our scheme of things.''
By the end of the preseason Matthews, Wuerffel and Rosenfels all will have faced first-string defenses. Wuerffel is expected to start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Aug.24. Spurrier has left open who will get the nod against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL's top-ranked defense last year, on Aug.18.
"It's not like in the middle of the first quarter he throws me out there," Rosenfels said. "He gives each a fair shot."
Then there's the difference between preseason and regular-season pace. Defenses mostly remain in basic schemes with less blitzing during the preseason. The increased pressure and tempo of September could unravel a passer who fared better in the preseason.
"The speed of the game is dramatically different," Matthews said. "Teams give you way more [defensive] looks [in the regular season]."
Rosenfels said he audibled about 10 times in 28 snaps against the 49ers in a system that allows quarterbacks to change the play at the line of scrimmage. During the regular season, teams only allow quarterbacks to audible a handful of plays though Spurrier gives his passers more flexibility.

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