- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Like the Washington Redskins as a whole, Mark Brunell didn’t leave much of a lasting impression — good or bad — from the recently completed preseason.

The veteran quarterback had his moments, most notably in leading the Redskins’ starting offense to a couple of touchdown drives against the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons. But those moments were so few and far between and his snaps with the first-string were so limited that fans may feel like they’re entering the season without a clear idea about Brunell.

To which the soon-to-be 34-year-old said: Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be just fine.

“I’ve done this for 10 years,” Brunell said. “So I kind of know what to expect.”

Brunell’s coaches and teammates concur. While the public may have little material with which to judge the new quarterback, the Redskins have been watching him in action since the first day of minicamp in late March.

And to a man, they like what they have seen.

“He had a good finish at Atlanta, and he had a heck of a practice today,” assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel said. “Lefty’s right on course.”

After an up-and-down training camp in which he faced daily competition from Patrick Ramsey for the starting job, Brunell closed out the preseason on a high note, completing four of six passes for 51 yards Friday night against the Falcons.

That apparently was all coach Joe Gibbs needed to see. He pulled his starting skill position players after one touchdown drive, saving them for this week’s opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Not that Gibbs wouldn’t have liked to see Brunell in action a little longer.

“You’d like to play them better than half the games and let them get in a real groove,” he said. “But you can’t do that, because it’d be stupid and they could get hurt. So how much do you play them, and how much do you get them out of there? It’s a tough balance.”

In Brunell’s case, the balance was about one quarter under center each preseason game. He got in three offensive series in Washington’s Hall of Fame Game victory over Denver, came off the bench for Ramsey the following week against Carolina, played nearly the entire first half in Miami and again backed up Ramsey in St. Louis before closing out the preseason with his one token drive against Atlanta.

When it was all said and done, Brunell finished 26-for-46 for 295 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a modest 74.1 quarterback rating. Hardly eye-popping numbers but still more than enough to make him the no-brainer choice over Ramsey, who struggled during his time on the field.

Along the way, Brunell became more comfortable with Gibbs’ offense, which admittedly is a run-first system that asks its quarterbacks to, above all else, complete high-percentage passes and limit mistakes.

Brunell, who spent the last nine seasons in Jacksonville, said it didn’t take long for him to learn the new offense. He also thinks he’s a good fit for this system and vice versa.

“This offense has been very productive for Coach Gibbs in the past,” Brunell said. “This thing hasn’t just shown up after 12 years. It’s been in place for decades. I think it requires you to be smart and make good decisions. But I think it fits. I think it fits every quarterback who’s willing to work hard, study it and spend time in it.”

Brunell’s had plenty of time to study it. His trade to Washington became official March3, and he immediately delved into Gibbs’ playbook. The payoff for all the offseason work was evident on the first day of training camp, with Brunell feeling like he already knew the system like the back of his throwing hand.

“One good thing about the way things are done in football now [is] that offseason is much more intense than what we used to have,” Gibbs said. “There’s a lot more work there. That’s good for a guy like Mark, and it’s good for us as a new coaching staff, to be quite truthful. Because we spent a lot of those days out there, we were able to do a lot more work than what you used to be able to do in the NFL. So I’m glad for that.”

And though Brunell didn’t get a ton of opportunities to use his skills during the preseason, those that watch him every day in practice said he — and the offense in general — is prepared for the regular season.

“We got a lot of snaps together, trust me,” wide receiver Laveranues Coles said. “It might not have been on gameday. But here at Redskin Park, we took our fair share of snaps. It might not show up on film or out there in preseason games, but Coach Gibbs makes it a point to make sure that we’re well-prepared. We’re not going to have any excuses about not knowing what to do.”


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