- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

During a career that has lasted more than 10 seasons and included 67 wins and 165 touchdowns, Mark Brunell has been called many things: franchise quarterback (with Jacksonville in the late 1990s), deft scrambler (throughout his career), washed up (last season) and rejuvenated (this season).

But as good as Brunell has been this season for the Washington Redskins — 14 touchdowns, five interceptions and an 89.0 passer rating — his recent spat of fumbles has been cause for concern heading into tomorrow’s game against Oakland.

Since the Kansas City game in Week 6, Brunell has fumbled five times in five games, losing four of them, which have ended long drives and kick-started the opposition’s offense.

“He’s taking it harder than all of us,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “He’s somebody who is very conscientious about it. He said this hasn’t happened before.”

Tampa Bay Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice forced two Brunell fumbles last week, resulting in one turnover, which the Bucs turned into a touchdown.

“We’ve worked on drills all year and it just so happened that Simeon Rice with his 9-foot arms poked [two] out,” quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave said. “We want to correct those mistakes and secure it when pressure does come to the pocket.”

Brunell has 66 fumbles (24 lost) in 140 career games. Only once — in 1996 when he had 14 fumbles — did he fumble more than eight times in a season. But since joining the Redskins, Brunell has fumbled 12 times, losing eight of them, in just 18 games.

But Brunell doesn’t accept the theory that fumbles are going to occasionally happen when a quarterback scrambles.

“You have to be careful,” he said. “When you’re in the pocket and outside of the pocket, you have to hold on to that thing because defenders know that you’re susceptible to dropping that thing. They go after it. Instead of many times just all-out hitting you, they take a swipe at the ball so you have to be careful.”

Gibbs said it’s fundamentals that cause quarterbacks to fumble more than running backs or receivers. Even as they approach the line of scrimmage and can feel pressure from all angles, the quarterback’s competitive instinct tells them to keep the ball away from the body so a quick throw can be made.

But when the receiver doesn’t get open and the quarterback doesn’t slide and the ball is not tucked, trouble generally ensues.

“Typically, the quarterbacks are the ones who fumble the most because they’re not protecting the football when they get hit,” Gibbs said. “They’re scrambling and getting hit from all kinds of directions. We hope we can correct it.”

The only Brunell fumble across the line of scrimmage was against Kansas City. Replays showed that Brunell, even though he would not have been able to attempt a pass, still had the ball positioned like he was ready to throw.

Against the Bucs, Brunell’s two fumbles came when he tried to slide in the pocket and didn’t see Rice coming.

“Sometimes, you have an idea and see somebody coming out of the corner of your eye,” he said. “It’s certainly not an exact science. You would like to feel it and see it coming every time, but you don’t.”

Brunell has been adept at choosing the right time to force a throw into traffic or chuck it into the stands. It prevents the interception as well as the sack or possible fumble.

“Even with guys that have played for a long time, you still have the tendency to still want to try and fit that ball in there,” Brunell said. “You have to be smart. The best plays you make are the ones where there is nothing there and you just get rid of it and go to the next play.”

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