- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2003

Frustration over final cuts surfaced yesterday at Redskin Park, where coach Steve Spurrier said owner Dan Snyder was responsible for dropping quarterback Danny Wuerffel and running back Kenny Watson.

As the Redskins moved to the final 53-man roster in anticipation of today’s deadline and Thursday’s opener against the New York Jets, Spurrier was asked about the decision to keep Sultan McCullough over Watson. The coach’s response made clear he wasn’t pleased with some moves.

“You’re going to ask me about several players,” Spurrier said, “and my answer is very simply this: When the coaching staff and the personnel department disagree about one or two players, the owner steps in and has the final say. That’s the way we do things around here. So it was a team decision to keep the players we have around here. We all argue and discuss things, and then when the final decision is made, we all support it.”

Spurrier wouldn’t say how many players that scenario applied to, but when the subject of Wuerffel came up — and the fact that he had been released became evident — Spurrier reiterated what he had said regarding Watson.

“Back to my original statement: When there’s a disagreement, the owner makes the final call,” Spurrier said.

Team sources confirmed that coaches were frustrated that Wuerffel and Watson were cut. Wuerffel was battling to be the No.2 quarterback and was expected to be at least third-string, while Watson could have contributed on special teams and as an emergency tailback.

Spurrier is very fond of Wuerffel, who won a Heisman Trophy and the national championship when the two were at Florida. And Watson won over coaches and teammates with his work ethic and productivity as a spot starter last season.

Those who wanted to ax Wuerffel, though, believed he had done nothing in practices or preseason games to prove he’s a true NFL quarterback. Indeed, until Wuerffel surged in the second half of Thursday’s preseason loss at Jacksonville, he hadn’t been particularly impressive.

And while Watson may have been last season’s No.2 rusher (534 yards), the feeling was that he was only going to play special teams and that McCullough has a higher upside in 2004 and beyond.

Whether yesterday’s frustration will resurface in coming weeks or months is unclear. Club officials downplayed the dispute, saying this is a stressful weekend around the league and that final cuts are never easy.

An upshot of Wuerffel’s release is that Washington has no No.3 quarterback. Rookie Gibran Hamdan also was cut — with the intention of being re-signed to the practice squad — and the Redskins have no emergency passer if both Patrick Ramsey and Rob Johnson go down in a game.

“If we get two injuries in the game, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Spurrier said. “There’s nobody who can stand under center, drop back and throw it. We can always put in some single-wing plays. Sometimes the way our offense looks, that might not be too bad.”

Spurrier added that the club “certainly” would look at Wuerffel if they had an injury, noting that his preseason rating (84.2) was the team’s highest. Other club officials supported that statement.

Johnson was happy to have won the backup job, which seemed likely to go to Wuerffel given Spurrier’s history and his quotes after Thursday’s game. Johnson expects to boost his play now that he can focus on game planning each week rather than on learning Spurrier’s entire playbook.

“Obviously, we’ve got improvement to do,” Johnson said. “I thought I played well in the first couple games. The last couple games … it’s preseason. Basically, now it’s for real, and that’s what we’re all here for.”

Wuerffel had two stints as the starting quarterback last season, getting injured both times. He did help win the Nov.24 game against St. Louis with a solid performance, and he threw three touchdown passes four days later in the Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas. But his rating was 70.9 and he was sacked nearly once every nine times he dropped back.

“Obviously, I’m very disappointed not to be a part of this team,” Wuerffel said. “I’m frustrated. I felt like I competed well enough to be a part of the team.”

Watson filled in for Stephen Davis admirably last year. He rushed for 67 yards, including 42 on the final drive, when Davis missed the second half of the Oct.27 win over Indianapolis. The next week Watson rushed for 110 yards in a win at Seattle. In a Dec.22 victory over Houston, he and Betts became the first Redskins pair in 17 years to go over 100 yards apiece.

Watson is a classic example of a player whom coaches love (because he works hard and gets the job done), but scouts shrug at (because he has none of the prototypical attributes). That’s at least partly why there was no trade market for him. However, there now seems to be a fair chance he’ll get claimed off waivers given a league-wide deficiency at running back.

“Hopefully, somebody will give me an opportunity,” Watson said. “I was pretty surprised and I’m a lot disappointed. I think I had a good opportunity this year, but they didn’t feel the same way I did.”

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