- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

For much of the Washington Redskins' offseason, quarterback Sage Rosenfels has taken the first-string snaps. Late last week, Danny Wuerffel went No.1. And yesterday, it was Shane Matthews.
Just like coach Steve Spurrier said, the Redskins have an open competition at the game's most crucial position. Even now, as the club holds its final minicamp, this season's starter remains very much in doubt.
"The best guy will play," quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise reiterated yesterday. "Everybody's getting equal reps. We don't even have a number one, two or three. We're just rotating right now. Guys know whoever plays the best will be the starter."
Performance in preseason games should decide the battle. Spurrier, who elevated Matthews from fifth to first string at Florida, said he doesn't expect to name a starter until the final exhibition. The coach added, though, that a clear front-runner could win the nod at any time.
With the former sentiment in mind, the quarterbacks aren't dwelling on missteps, knowing that their biggest goal is simply to become comfortable and get ready to perform in August.
"It's so early," Matthews said. "We've got plenty of time until training camp. It'll take care of itself."
Conventional wisdom holds that Matthews will win the job, thanks to his eight years of NFL experience, 15 professional starts and familiarity with Spurrier's system. But Wuerffel, another Spurrier protege, and Rosenfels, the club's fourth-round pick in 2001, believe they have legitimate chances.
"I'm certainly under that impression," Wuerffel said. "We're all being given an opportunity to prove ourselves in practice."
Said Rosenfels: "He told me I'm going to have a fair shot, and I believe him."
The only unquestioned spot in the rotation is rookie Patrick Ramsey at No.4 now that Spurrier even allows him to participate in team drills. But Ramsey is getting far more snaps than an ordinary fourth-stringer, and his impressive arm might allow him to enter the competition late this summer.
Matthews wasn't even a Redskin until after the post-draft minicamp, when Rosenfels, Wuerffel, Dameyune Craig and Ramsey collectively struggled. Ramsey had difficulty making basic throws as coaches worked on his mechanics, and club officials quickly moved to convince Spurrier that he needed Matthews.
Rosenfels, Wuerffel and Ramsey have improved significantly since, while Matthews has adjusted quickly back to Spurrier's system. The hard part, according to Matthews, was returning to an offense where the quarterback must make the right call at the line of scrimmage.
"It's not like other systems I've played in," Matthews said. "There they call it, and you've got to run it and make it work out. Here you have to make the decision yourself. The more I practice it, the more confident I'm becoming."
To Matthews, a quarterback's best qualities particularly in this offense are to be "smart and efficient." The lanky passer knows he doesn't have a rifle arm like Ramsey or an impressive frame like Rosenfels (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), but he thinks he has stuck in the NFL so long for a good reason.
"Eighty percent of the quarterback position is between the ears," Matthews said. "You've got to think, make quick decisions. You have to have intangibles to play this position. I believe in my ability."
Rosenfels thinks he has improved "by leaps and bounds" in recent months and hopes his extensive playing time in the 2001 preseason pays off. Despite having no background with Spurrier, he is showing the ability to change plays. He said the offense actually is far easier to pick up than Marty Schottenheimer's last year.
"[Spurrier] loves to let players just play," Rosenfels said. "It's all about reacting, making plays."
Knowing this set's nuances is Wuerffel's biggest asset. His arm and stature (6-1, 212) are by no means prototypical, but the 1996 Heisman Trophy winner finds open receivers and hits them.
"I've seen Danny play for so long, and he just knows where to go with the ball," said Brindise, who played at Florida in 1995 and 1996 with Wuerffel. "He compensates for what some people may see as a problem with arm strength by throwing to a point before the defense has a chance to react."
In fact, each quarterback has made his share of plays. And Ramsey is progressing quickly. Although Matthews might end up with the job, there appears to be a legitimate battle.
"We're all doing the best we can," Wuerffel said, "and I think we'll be all the better because of it."


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