- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. Sage Rosenfels wants the job so badly he spent his vacation thinking about it. Shane Matthews is so laid-back he's not even worried what happens now. Danny Wuerffel seems to make all the right reads but still endures questions about his legitimacy. And Patrick Ramsey is nowhere to be found.

The quarterback battle remains as intriguing and wide open as ever at the Washington Redskins' training camp, even as the position's play looks somewhat rag-tag in early sessions. One of the four passers will emerge as the figure often called the second-most scrutinized in the nation's capital, but right now calling the winner is impossible.

"They're all working hard," quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise said yesterday. "They all know they've got an equal chance. Whoever plays the best in the preseason games and the practices is going to have a chance to play a little [in the season]."

It's tough to even name a front-runner. Matthews is considered the favorite, but he hasn't played well in minicamps or thus far in training camp. His passes continue to flutter and sometimes miss easy targets. At one point yesterday morning, he rifled a 5-yard incompletion to a running back blanketed in coverage in a 7-on-7 drill, no less.

But don't look for a trace of concern from the ninth-year veteran, who takes comfort in Joe Montana's "tight wobble" and freely admits that he doesn't always look good in practice. Matthews' focus remains totally on the preseason games.

"You're going to make mistakes, you're going to throw interceptions, you're going to throw a lot of incompletions," Matthews said. "But it all comes down to playing in the game. You want to practice as well as you can, but some guys play better in the games than they do in practice."

Rosenfels, meanwhile, has been tabbed by coach Steve Spurrier to start the first exhibition not for any standout play but for his presence on the roster last year. Rosenfels is viewed as the least likely to win the job and his throws so far haven't elevated his position, but he makes no secret that he has been eyeing his opportunity in this camp since late last season.

"It's been a long time," Rosenfels said of his preparation. "I've worked my tail off. I've done everything I could possibly do, I think. I didn't want to be the third-string quarterback this year, whether it was Marty or Coach Spurrier or any coach. I wanted to be competing for the starting job."

Not even the league-mandated break from practices in late June and early July could divert Rosenfels' attention entirely.

The second-year player rested his body. But his mind stayed on football.

"I took a little physical time off, but mentally it never stops," Rosenfels said.

All that consideration has given him a "little bit" of nervousness now that it's time to perform. But Rosenfels believes he can earn the starter's role and lead Washington to the playoffs.

"I know I can do the job," Rosenfels said. "I just want to do really well. I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to be the best quarterback I can be to help the Redskins this year."

Somewhere between Rosenfels' tunnel vision and Matthews' shrug is Wuerffel, who seems to excel in this scheme despite convincing a variety of NFL types that he isn't pro material.

Although Wuerffel hasn't dominated practices this summer, he was the most consistent quarterback in minicamps. And yesterday the 1996 Heisman Trophy winner waited until the perfect moment on one of Spurrier's creative plays and threaded a short pass to a wide-open fullback.

"This is the most comfortable I've ever been in the NFL," Wuerffel said. "This is the offense I know and was taught for five years. And certainly being here for 30 practices or so makes you readjust and get back to what's going on."

The official count of offseason practices actually was 26, still more than other clubs because Spurrier is a first-year coach.

The extra work allowed Wuerffel and Rosenfels to get familiar with the system; Ramsey came in the draft in late April. Matthews signed on a week later when Wuerffel and Rosenfels struggled in a minicamp.

Ramsey remains the derby's intriguing entry, his powerful arm clearly stands out. However, he didn't join team drills until he smoothed out his mechanics and learned many of the plays. His current holdout isn't helping his slim chance of winning the job.

That said, no one has a firm grasp on the job. Ramsey, provided he comes to camp soon, should get a chance to pitch a few balls in Spurrier's offense.

"Everybody's just trying to get their timing back down," Brindise said. "We took about six or seven weeks off between practices, so it takes a little time. But they'll be fine."


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