- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Danny Wuerffel’s second tour of duty with the Washington Redskins won’t be like the first, and he knows it.

No longer battling for a starting job, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Florida has been reunited with coach Steve Spurrier to push Rob Johnson for the backup job, provide an insurance policy if Johnson can’t adapt to this offense, and generally aid the learning process of Johnson and young starter Patrick Ramsey.

“The reality is that you’re always competing to be a part of a team, but you’re also competing to make your team better,” Wuerffel said after his first practice. “I’ve always tried to find whatever role to make the team better, and whether that’s coming in or starting, whatever. You always want to be ready.”

The media throng was five deep as Wuerffel spoke — quite a circus for an unquestioned reserve. But the Redskins’ quarterback is always a hot topic around Washington, and considering Spurrier’s constant shuffling last season (five switches), everyone in town wanted to know why the Redskins really re-signed Wuerffel.

And so Spurrier emphasized that the move had nothing to do with Ramsey.

“Patrick Ramsey is by far our best quarterback,” Spurrier said. “I’ve said that many, many times. Danny gives us some insurance. If something happens to Patrick, either he or Rob Johnson will go in the game and play well. It’s strictly an insurance position.”

The key to the pickup appears to be Johnson, but not because he’s played poorly per se. No, Johnson hasn’t been sharp (though he bounced back nicely yesterday, particularly in the afternoon), but rather there is some concern that Johnson won’t be ready to run this offense at season’s start.

With Wuerffel, there’s no question. He’s too small and weak-armed for the NFL, but this offense is like his Miracle-Gro. In three legitimate starts last season (he was injured on the first series of a fourth), he beat St. Louis and lit up Dallas in a loss, then was injured in a loss to the New York Giants.

Wuerffel might not have a gun for an arm, but he’s got a knack for running Spurrier’s system. And he also has virtually no ego, a major benefit as he, Johnson and rookie Gibran Hamdan battle for the two slots behind Ramsey.

“I’m just really excited that [my] opportunity is here, to come in and compete for a backup spot to help these guys out,” Wuerffel said. “And I know that one of my biggest roles is to help Patrick be as good as he can be.”

Ramsey already is well-versed, if not Wuerffel-esque, in the Fun ‘n’ Gun. It’s a fairly unique scheme, requiring a lot of audibles at the line and a certain way of reading the field. Those things are foreign to a passer like Johnson, who has spent most of his career in the West Coast offense.

“I don’t know that it’s tough, but it’s different,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. “It takes time. It’s not something that, overnight, you’ve got it.”

Some might remember this discussion from last year, when former Gator Shane Matthews needed to re-learn Spurrier’s system. Matthews was drilled in the West Coast offense for a decade, and he needed to reverse many of his tendencies.

“It’s definitely a huge adjustment for someone who has never played in Spurrier’s system,” Matthews said yesterday from training camp with Cincinnati, his new team. “It had been 10 years for me, and it took me awhile to adjust. … [But] I don’t think it’s that difficult once you get in the rhythm. It’s actually easier than the West Coast. It gives quarterbacks a lot of freedom.”

There are two basic differences between the schemes, Matthews explained. The West Coast offense dictates that a quarterback gets the most out of a given play. Spurrier wants a change at the line to the best possible play. Then, a West Coast quarterback must make his reads from his No.1 target to his No.2 target to No.3. Whoever’s open gets the ball. Spurrier wants it done much differently.

“A lot of times Coach Spurrier wants you to pick a side of the field, and then stay on that side,” Matthews said. “You read that area, not a specific receiver. You see what develops, and then that tells you where to throw it.”

A side benefit to that method is receivers don’t take as many big hits. In the West Coast offense, the quarterback often telegraphs where the ball is going. Under Spurrier, passers are more able to “look off” targets.

“I still do [it Spurriers way],” Matthews said. “Sometimes they have to correct me here.”

Johnson has found both aspects of Spurrier’s offense difficult to execute. The audibles are tough to make because there isn’t much time and NFL defenses disguise so well. And the reads are “a lot different.” Plus, unlike Matthews, he has no history with Spurrier on which to fall back.

But Johnson remains confident that he’ll get it, and he hopes he can start demonstrating progress in Saturday’s preseason opener at Carolina.

“It’s been a little transition, but I’m looking forward to the games and getting some work there,” Johnson said.

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