- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Newly signed Rob Johnson considers himself in a "competitive" quarterback situation as a Washington Redskin, even though he understands that he is Patrick Ramsey's backup.
"I'm going to push him as much as I can," Johnson said yesterday at Redskin Park. "I know [being a backup is] my role, and I'm going to support [Ramsey] as much as I can. But I want to push him, make him better and make myself better."
Coach Steve Spurrier has named Ramsey the unquestioned starter, saying that last year's first-round pick will get about 80 percent of the first-team work when minicamps begin after the April 26-27 draft.
Johnson, a ninth-year veteran who recently signed a two-year, $2million contract, didn't dispute Ramsey's status but made it clear that he doesn't think like a reserve. Asked whether he views Washington's quarterback situation as competitive, he replied, "Oh yeah. It's always competitive."
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson reiterated that Ramsey is the starter and said the club is lucky to have a backup as talented as Johnson.
"The thing that's exciting right now is we have a guy who's a starter, who has played in our system, who has led our football team to victories," Jackson said. "And we have another young man who's very talented and we're excited about having on our team. It's like with any team you always want to have as many good quarterbacks as you can have. I think we're very fortunate with the situation we're in."
Both passers are studying and working out at the team's headquarters in preparation for the first minicamp May 2-4. Johnson's first visit to Redskin Park came only Friday because he was on vacation in Aspen, Colo., when his contract was negotiated.
Ramsey, 24, is benefiting from this early start. Last year he was thrown into minicamps after the draft and then held out more than two weeks from training camp. As the young passer continues to learn about the NFL after a promising rookie season, Johnson, 30, is "ready to have a big year."
"I've played well in games, just never put strings together, either from injuries or whatever," Johnson said. "I think it's just a matter of timing."
NFL talent evaluators long have felt Johnson has the tools to be a top passer. A 1995 fourth-round pick by Jacksonville, Johnson consistently has impressed with his arm strength and athleticism, plus his prototypical height (6-foot-4, 212 pounds). But he has struggled to find a comfortable situation, whether with Jacksonville, Buffalo or Tampa Bay.
This setup appears very promising, albeit in a reserve capacity. So much of the NFL these days is based around the short, high-percentage passes of the West Coast offense, making Spurrier's wide-open, downfield attack one of the few systems geared toward Johnson's talents and preference.
"I think [the system] fits me well," Johnson said. "They throw the ball downfield a whole lot here, and that's what I like to do. They've got a very good O-line, which allows you to throw the ball downfield, and they've got speed wide receivers. I think I fit in well here."
The system was just one thing that attracted Johnson as a free agent after a year backing up Brad Johnson for Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay.
"Probably just the opportunity to play," Johnson said of signing here. "And obviously the commitment to winning. It's a great organization. … The team is up and coming. [With] the players that they have, I just think they need a little something maybe a little luck, better play to push them over the edge."
Another element that makes Johnson comfortable is the presence of Jackson, who began a four-year tenure at Southern California shortly after Johnson left. The quarterback later worked out with Jackson occasionally.
"I have a history with his father, a history with his family," Jackson said. "And he's a real good friend of Carson Palmer [the likely No.[ThSp]1 overall pick in the draft], who I recruited and coached at USC. So there was a connection there. I'm just glad that we had a guy who has experience, who's been around the league and played in a lot of different systems, to come in and back up Patrick."

Note There is mutual interest between the Redskins and St. Louis tight end Ernie Conwell, agent Michael Sullivan confirmed. NFL sources said Conwell, a solid pass-catcher and one of the top tight ends available, is sought by a number of other clubs, including Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Carolina. His visits are expected to begin late next week, having been put off because he was resting a knee that underwent "minor elective" surgery in mid-January.

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