- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

For the first time in 10 years, since he was in Jacksonville, since he was 24 and since a journeyman was working in front of him, Mark Brunell is the “other guy” at quarterback.

Thing is, Brunell — the former Redskins starter, current Redskins backup and chief whipping boy for Washington’s offensive ineptitude last season — is slowly and shockingly developing into, if you listened to talk-show callers on Monday, the people’s choice to start the Sept.11 opener against Chicago.

Welcome to life as an NFL quarterback. Scorned and tagged with a “Return To Sender” label one season, people calling for your promotion and gushing over your ability the next.

Not that Brunell is paying attention. A veteran of 126 starts, 151 touchdown passes and 12 seasons, he knows the current deal: Patrick Ramsey is the starter and Brunell the backup.

Brunell, though, has been one of the surprises of training camp and continued his sharpness in Saturday’s loss to Carolina, going 11-for-19 for 121 yards.

“To the best of my knowledge, the job is not open — it’s Pat’s job,” he said yesterday at Redskin Park. “He earned it last year when the offense did better with him in there and he went into the offseason as the starter and came into training camp as the starter.”

It has been 10 years since Brunell wasn’t the favorite to start a season opener. In 1995, Steve Beuerlein started Jacksonville’s first six games before Brunell took over, a job he kept until Week3 of the 2003 season.

“It’s been awhile, but that’s the way it is,” he said. “As difficult as it may be, it’s my role this year. I’m just like every other backup — I’d love to be the starter, but I’m not right now.”

Brunell was asked if the pressure was off now that his status as a backup is set.

“You play the same; there’s always a measure of pressure, whether you’re the first, second or third guy,” he said. “You play and try to execute. It doesn’t change how much you’re relaxed or how intense you are.”

Receiver James Thrash said Brunell’s huddle presence remains strong.

“Mark’s having a tremendous camp,” Thrash said. “He motivates you in the huddle with his poise and his ability to go out and compete.”

Brunell didn’t lose his job last year because he didn’t compete, he just didn’t produce and was replaced in the first half of Game9 against Cincinnati, whom the Redskins play host to Friday night.

Brunell, 3-6 as a starter last season, failed to reach 100 yards passing in three of his last four full games. The Redskins offense did not break 20 points under his stewardship and he completed a career-low 49.8 percent of his passes.

Slowed by a hamstring injury for several games last year, Brunell has proclaimed his legs healthy. He is moving around the field with confidence and throwing the ball with a noticeable zip.

Against the Panthers, Brunell entered late in the first half. Operating in the hurry-up offense, he led a five-play, 38-yard drive that resulted in a field goal.

“He did well in the two-minute drill,” Redskins quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave said. “It was good for us to get something there before halftime.”

In the third quarter, Brunell was 3-for-3 passing on third down during a 14-play, 82-yard touchdown drive.

Musgrave worked with Brunell in Jacksonville two years ago when the former served as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator and said the 34-year-old Brunell still has plenty to offer. Whether that will be early in the Redskins’ season or at all remains to be seen.

“He’s got so much natural ability that as a coach you stay away from him in terms of talking about fundamentals and techniques,” Musgrave said.

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