- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

In his first go-round with the Redskins, Joe Gibbs inherited a somewhat vertically challenged 32-year-old quarterback with a good-but-not-great arm and quick feet. Within two seasons, the team was winning the Super Bowl, and Joe Theismann was a Pro Bowler.

So what kind of QB does Gibbs set his sights on in his second tour of duty with the Redskins? A somewhat vertically challenged 33-year-old passer with a good-but-not-great arm and quick feet. Mark Brunell, you might say, is a left-handed Joe Theismann.

The similarities between the two don’t stop there, either. Both were drafted in the middle rounds (Theismann in the fourth by the Dolphins, Brunell in the fifth by the Packers). And both would have been stuck behind Hall of Fame quarterbacks if they hadn’t been traded by their original teams (Bob Griese in Miami, Brett Favre in Green Bay). Brunell isn’t the motormouth Joe T. is, but, hey, no one said they were identical twins.

Seen in this light, the Redskins’ interest in Brunell — still the property of Jacksonville — makes perfect sense. Gibbs had his greatest success as an NFL coach with Theismann at the controls, so why not bring in the most Theismannesque of the league’s current QBs?

Still, reports over the weekend that the Redskins were trying to make a deal for Brunell were more than a little startling. Granted, Gibbs had talked about adding a veteran to the quarterback mix — what with Patrick Ramsey, Tim Hasselbeck and Gibran Hamdan still in their formative years — but he never let on that the veteran might actually challenge Ramsey for the job. After all, Gibbs has had veteran backups in the past (Jim Hart, Jeff Rutledge) who were no threat to the incumbent. Even Doug Williams was little more than an expensive insurance policy … until Jay Schroeder began overshooting receivers.

But this is different. If Brunell becomes a Redskin, he will go to camp as no worse than the No.1A quarterback. And since Gibbs’ offense will be as new to Ramsey as it will to Brunell, who would figure to look smoother, more sure of himself, in the preseason? Why, the Veteran Guy, of course.

Suddenly, you find yourself wondering: What did Gibbs learn about Ramsey in the game tapes that convinced him he needed a backup quarterback of Brunell’s stature? Is he concerned that Patrick might not be ready to be a starter? Does he worry that the pounding the kid took last season might have set him back — psychologically, if nothing else? Who knows, maybe he questions whether Ramsey is mobile enough for this blitz-crazed era.

Put it this way: With so many other pressing needs, why would the Redskins meet the Jaguars’ asking price of a second-round pick for Brunell — in their case, a high second-round pick — if there was a good chance he was going to sit on the bench? It just wouldn’t make sense. (Not that the club has led the league lately in making sense.)

Another issue is whether the Redskins can surround Brunell with the kind of talent he had in Jacksonville. He was hardly a one-man team down there. In ‘99 — the year the Jaguars won 16 games, ran up 62 points on the Dolphins in the playoffs and reached the AFC title game — he had Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell at the receiver spots, Kyle Brady at tight end, Fred Taylor at running back and a line that allowed him to be sacked only 29 times.

In Washington — at this point, anyway — he has Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner at the wideouts, no tight end to speak of, no established running back and a line that gave up 43 sacks last season. There’s just no comparison. Gibbs is legendary, of course, for getting the maximum out of his quarterbacks; he once got a 363-yard half out of Rutledge. But can we expect Brunell to be as productive as he was in Jacksonville with the Redskins’ current personnel? Not hardly.

His age doesn’t bother me in the least. Rich Gannon, a QB with similar skills, had the best years of his career after his 33rd birthday — and took the Raiders to the Super Bowl at 37. Brunell might be 33, but he’s not an old 33. Since he became a starter in ‘95, his passer rating has never dipped below 82 — not even the past two seasons, when the Jaguars’ fortunes have plummeted. In his last 18 games, he has completed 60 percent of his passes and thrown for 19 touchdowns, with just seven interceptions. Those aren’t the stats of a quarterback who’s used up.

Brunell has other clubs interested in him besides the Redskins. Indeed, he’s said to prefer the Dolphins, who have been searching for a QB since Dan Marino hung ‘em up. So Gibbs’ formidable powers of persuasion are going to be put to the test here. Will he be able to sweet-talk Brunell into coming to Washington — the way he did defensive boss Gregg Williams? And if he does — and can close the deal with the Jags — will Brunell be the second coming of Theismann? The second coming of Joe Gibbs won’t be nearly as much fun if he isn’t.


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