- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Steve Spurrier always has been Danny Wuerffel’s biggest supporter, for good reason. Wuerffel did give the Ball Coach a national championship at Florida.

The dilemma Spurrier faces this weekend, however, may be the ultimate test of his loyalty. Does he make Wuerffel, who had an up-and-down game in the Washington Redskins’ 17-15 exhibition loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last night, his No.2 quarterback? Or will he be forced to release his all-time favorite player when the Redskins reduce their roster to 53 players on Sunday?

Spurrier is going to have to sleep on this one.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do right now,” the coach said. “We’ll go back and watch the tapes [today] and then announce our cuts on Sunday.”

Given his most extensive look of the preseason, Wuerffel displayed many of the qualities that have made him an NFL journeyman since 1997. He floated passes, took four sacks and spent considerable time running for his life.

But in classic Wuerffel fashion, he showed just enough moxie during a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to make Spurrier’s decision a little tougher. Down by 11 points, Wuerffel capped an 8-play, 69-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Johnson.

And when it was all said and done, Wuerffel’s numbers actually looked impressive: 13-for-19, 147 yards, a touchdown and a 108.9 quarterback rating, perhaps enough to unseat Rob Johnson as Patrick Ramsey’s top backup.

“I feel like I can [help this team],” Wuerffel said. “I think I can help Patrick be a better player. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to contribute in lots of different ways for this team this year. But that’s a decision that’s beyond me. My job was to do the best that I could, and I felt I did. I fought hard. We’ll see what happens.”

Wuerffel’s chances got a boost last night, because Johnson certainly didn’t state his case very definitively. The veteran quarterback, who has had trouble grasping the Fun ‘n’ Gun offense from the day he arrived in town, had an opportunity to lead a game-winning drive, but he stumbled mightily, fumbling the ball away with 2:21 to play.

Wuerffel entered the game having seen little playing time during the preseason. He had completed 8-of-13 passes for 84 yards and an interception in mostly mop-up work, but last night was given an extended opportunity to make his case for a roster spot.

Wuerffel went three-and-out on his first series and would have done the same his next time out if not for a pass interference call on Jaguars corner Ike Charlton. After linebacker Antonio Pierce recovered a Byron Leftwich fumble at the Jacksonville 44, Wuerffel produced his biggest play of the first half — a 22-yard strike to Darnerian McCants over the middle. But he failed to cap the drive with a touchdown, getting sacked on first-and-10 at the 13 and ultimately having to settle for John Hall’s 26-yard field goal.

This being the final game of the preseason, the Redskins’ top priority was to keep their starters healthy. Which meant they didn’t play much.

Ramsey was only given two series to get the offense rolling, and he had few of his regular weapons at his disposal. Starting wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner and running back Trung Canidate all were healthy scratches from the game, with the Redskins coaching staff not wanting to risk injury to any of its top players.

Given a starting receiving corps of Taylor Jacobs, Cliff Russell and McCants, Ramsey was at a severe disadvantage from the start, and he struggled in his brief time on the field, completing 1-of-3 passes for three yards. He would have been tagged with an interception, but Jacksonville cornerback Jason Craft was flagged for illegal contact on the play.

Washington’s first-string defense hardly played inspired football either, surrendering two big gains to running back Fred Taylor on its first series, then allowing the Jaguars to march 55 yards on nine plays on a late-first quarter touchdown drive.

The real culprit, however, was right end Regan Upshaw, who was whistled for a costly roughing-the-passer penalty on an incomplete third-down pass. Upshaw, who arrived from Oakland with a reputation for dirty play, took Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell out by the legs well after he had released the ball. The penalty moved Jacksonville to the 21-yard line, and four plays later, Brunell rolled left and found tight end Kyle Brady for a 4-yard touchdown.

The second-string defense contributed just as much to the Jaguars’ second touchdown drive, an 11-play, 83-yard behemoth late in the second quarter. Leftwich, the former H.D. Woodson High School star and Heisman Trophy finalist, made several key plays, much to the delight of the home crowd. But he benefited from a 15-yard facemask penalty on end Peppi Zellner and an illegal contact whistle on linebacker Orantes Grant.

Joe Smith capped the monster drive by taking a pitch from Leftwich, beating end Ladairis Jackson around the left corner and then breaking a tackle by safety David Terrell on an 8-yard touchdown run.

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