Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Because he has been through so much in such a short amount of time, it’s easy to forget Patrick Ramsey still is a third-year pro quarterback with only 16 career starts to his name.

Ramsey’s performance Saturday night, however, was a harsh reminder of the 25-year-old’s naivete when it comes to the NFL.

More than one observer of the Washington Redskins’ 23-20 exhibition loss to the Carolina Panthers offered up the same assessment of Ramsey: He looked like a rookie at times.

Given his first opportunity to start under coach Joe Gibbs, Ramsey struggled to get the Redskins’ first-string offense going. He completed just four of 11 passes for 62 yards, was intercepted once, sacked another time and twice mishandled the center exchange.

Ramsey’s 27.1 quarterback rating through two preseason games is hardly advancing his cause to win the starting job from veteran Mark Brunell. But in his defense, Ramsey has been forced to learn a brand-new offense at such an early stage of his career, while at the same time unlearning Steve Spurrier’s unconventional Fun ‘n’ Gun system.

Ramsey yesterday acknowledged the difficulties he has faced in changing offenses, though he stopped short of using that as an excuse for his play.

“Yeah, it’s a different system, but it’s still the same game,” he said. “You have a lot to learn, but by no means do I feel like a rookie again.”

Ramsey does admit he’s putting too much pressure on himself to make plays during practices and games in a subconscious effort to impress the coaching staff and reclaim his starting job.

His performances thus far seem to back that up. Against the Panthers on Saturday night, Ramsey frequently looked uncomfortable in the pocket, taking too much time to read the opposing defense instead of simply relying on his football instincts. That led to a couple of bone-crunching hits by defenders, as well as some ill-advised passes into heavy coverage.

“I think it’s evident that I am pressing a little too much on several things,” Ramsey said. “I just need to go back there and run the offense [and] rather than try to make things happen, let them come to me and let them happen.”

Gibbs winces when he hears reporters say his young quarterback is pressing.

“I think lots of times when people say stuff like that, they’ll jump on anything,” the coach said. “There were a lot of comments like that thrown around. I just think sometimes you’re working hard, trying to get into a groove, and things don’t go well.”

In only two-plus NFL seasons, Ramsey already has been put through more adversity than most young quarterbacks.

By his own admission, he was made a starter too soon by Spurrier, pressed into service in his fourth game as a rookie when veterans Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel faltered. Spurrier ultimately benched Ramsey for six weeks before easing him back into the fold late in the 2002 season.

He was the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback last year, starting the Redskins’ first 11 games, but was left battered and bruised before he finally succumbed to a nagging foot injury that required offseason surgery.

As if the physical recovery wasn’t tough enough, Ramsey also had to spend this offseason learning Gibbs’ offense, which bears virtually no similarities to Spurrier’s system. Spurrier preaches some unconventional quarterbacking techniques, from footwork to ball-holding, that differ from most NFL coaches.

Given all that, Ramsey has been forced to forget some of Spurrier’s techniques while trying to learn Gibbs’ methods.

“Yeah, there’s a few things, and I think I’m still doing that,” he said. “It’s still the same game. It’s still coverage recognition. But at the same time, it’s significantly different as far as the offense is concerned and the principles we’re taught.

“I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. But it’s new for me, and I’m still trying to learn.”

One close follower of Ramsey speculated yesterday that the quarterback’s maturation process had been stunted by Spurrier over the last two years and that it could be awhile before he makes up for the lost time.

Of course, there isn’t much time left for Ramsey to win back the starting job. Gibbs will start Brunell at Miami on Saturday, then give Ramsey one last opportunity with the first-team offense Aug. 27 at St. Louis before he is expected to make a decision.

The way all three of his veteran quarterbacks, including Tim Hasselbeck, have struggled to date, the coach doesn’t seem in a hurry to make an announcement.

“I would just say that our quarterbacks in general in this game did not play well,” Gibbs said. “They know that. So I think we’ve been real rough so far. We’re continuing to work. It’s the second week in. We’ll see what happens down the road.”

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