- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004

For an idea of where Patrick Ramsey stands in the Washington Redskins’ “quarterback competition,” scroll down the NFC’s preseason passer rankings.

Now keep scrolling … and scrolling … and scrolling.

There. Sandwiched between Green Bay Packers retread Tim Couch (39.6 rating) and Dallas Cowboys long shot Tony Romo (9.5) is Ramsey (35.3). The one-time Redskins wunderkind is hitting barely a third of his passes and badly trailing veteran Mark Brunell in the race to start.

Tonight at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Ramsey gets his second start and probably his last chance to bid for the job. But the stage isn’t exactly set for an 11th-hour surge. After a dreadful start Aug.14 against the Carolina Panthers and modest improvement last weekend at Miami, Ramsey sounds more focused on taking baby steps than on making a statement.

“Whatever my situation is, I really want to learn from it,” Ramsey said this week. “I want to be smart — check the ball down when I have to, try to make first downs.”

It was Brunell who stood out in the 17-0 rout at Miami, hitting seven of nine passes for 79 yards and guiding a pair of touchdown drives. The performance appeared to cement his No.1 status after offseason speculation that his 10 years’ experience and seven-year, $43million contract all but dictated he start.

However, coach Joe Gibbs refused to install Brunell as tonight’s starter and hasn’t even committed to naming a No.1 before next week’s preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons. Demonstrating his predilection for making gut decisions at the last moment, Gibbs is sticking with the script and looking for progress by Ramsey.

“It’s more or less game management for him — doing all the right things, showing us he’s comfortable with what we’re doing,” Gibbs said. “I don’t think there’s any one thing.”

Strangely, the more compelling battle tonight might be the one occurring just a few yards behind Ramsey and Brunell. Running back Ladell Betts, scheduled to make his preseason debut after a lingering hamstring injury, is vying in an increasingly scrutinized duel to back up Clinton Portis.

Gibbs has indicated that Betts, a 2002 second-round pick, has to perform over the final two games if he’s to make the 53-man roster. Waiting to snatch his spot are Sultan McCullough (119 yards on 32 carries), Rock Cartwright (90 on 29) and John Simon (58 on 17).

“They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do,” running backs coach Earnest Byner said. “It’s a difficult situation to have to decide who will stay and who will go. Hopefully, the actions on the field will [settle the issue].”

Tonight’s exhibition is the Redskins’ second-to-last, the preseason game that generally provides the clearest view of a team’s makeup. Gibbs refused to reveal how much starters would play tonight or against the Falcons, saying only, “We’re going to go hard the next two weeks, and we’ll just see what happens.”

Regardless, the Redskins’ defense should get its best test to date against the “Greatest Show on Turf” — the Rams’ speedy offense, which is particularly dangerous indoors. Washington’s starting unit has yet to surrender a touchdown, but it will be pushed by a group eager to put to rest Monday’s 24-7 defeat at Kansas City.

The Redskins defense continues to play without starting linebackers LaVar Arrington (knee) and Mike Barrow (knee), defensive end Phillip Daniels (abdomen) and nickel back Walt Harris (calf), but strong early play by rookie safety Sean Taylor and linebacker Marcus Washington has more than compensated. Now assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams is eager to see how his unit holds up against a group known for the shifting and movement that defines Gibbs’ scheme.

“This is one of the teams — Kansas City [being the other] — that has remnants of Joe Gibbs’ offense,” Williams explained. “They’ll challenge you vertically. They’ll challenge you horizontally. And they’ve got good players. It will be another good challenge and a good time for us to see this.”

First cuts follow tonight’s game. Washington must shed 15 players to 75 — the league-mandated 65 plus NFL Europe exemptions — by 4p.m. Tuesday. Although generally few well-known players are set free in this round, Redskins coaches already have released former starting safety Ifeanyi Ohalete and could pull another surprise in coming days.

“I’m sure there will be several arguments over this weekend,” Williams said. “We evaluate every day, but we make no opinions because the performance here might take a guy and move him up a couple spots.”

Note — The Redskins’ Welcome Home Luncheon will be held Tuesday at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner. Darrell Green and Art Monk are among Redskins alumni scheduled to attend.

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