- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

One practice into training camp and 42 days from the season opener, Mark Brunell passed up the chance to douse the high expectations for the Washington Redskins following a 10-6 season and their first playoff appearance since 1999.

Brunell expects more than a trip to the second round of the playoffs. Period.

“We expect good things, and anything short of going all the way, honestly, would be a disappointment,” he said following a two-hour practice yesterday at steamy Redskin Park. “That’s the mind-set of every team now in training camp, but we need to be better than last year, and I expect us to be better.”

Heady talk from Brunell, the veteran quarterback who generally gives respect to even the sorriest of NFL teams and has memorized every chapter of the cliche handbook, a product of being in the league since 1993.

Perhaps Brunell sees 2006 as his last shot to win big. Jason Campbell is waiting in the wings, and Brunell will turn 36 on Sept. 17. Only Minnesota’s Brad Johnson, 38, is older among starting quarterbacks.

“I don’t look too far ahead,” Brunell said. “If we have the year I expect, then there’s another year. Every situation is different. What you can control is how you play and what you can contribute to the team.”

Brunell reached two conference championship games with Jacksonville, losing at New England in 1996 and at home to Tennessee in 1999.

“I want a Super Bowl — that would be it,” he said of personal accolades. “[The statistics] are pretty fleeting. I guess I’ve had those years in my career, and looking back, it doesn’t matter a whole lot. What a quarterback is measured on is wins and championships. That’s one thing I would certainly like to have before I go out. I’d like to do it for myself, but I’d like to do it with this team and for this organization and these fans.”

Brunell said expectations are higher at Redskin Park than in the preseason magazines, which have the Redskins picked anywhere from first to fourth in the division and not reaching the Super Bowl. He added that he’s OK with the focus pointed at him.

“There’s pressure year in and year out for the starting quarterback,” he said. “When expectations are really high, the pressure is high. Everybody feels that way. We should all sense that pressure because many times that’s what makes you better.”

A reason the Redskins’ playoff run ended in the Seattle rain Jan. 14 was the offense. After a regular season that included a career-high 23 touchdown passes, Brunell — playing with a balky knee — was 29-for-52 for 283 yards in two playoff games.

As a result, coach Joe Gibbs has relinquished the play-calling duties to Al Saunders, handing him a $6 million contract and control of the offense. The Redskins spent the offseason learning Saunders’ intricate passing offense.

“That was quite a concession [by Gibbs],” Brunell said. “I don’t know if surprised is the right word to use. Coach Gibbs has the team’s best interests in mind, and he felt like it was the smart thing to do. He’s the boss, and our job is to prove him right.”

But it didn’t give Brunell trepidation because Gibbs hand-picked him before the 2004 season to run his team? And it didn’t give Brunell pause considering the team had to learn a new passing system?

“I don’t see it as much starting over as continuing many of the things we did last year,” he said. “We’re building on what we did last year. For the most part, it’s the same group. The X’s and O’s have changed a little bit, but we haven’t completely departed from what we did last year. I think every team makes changes here and there.”

Brunell had a hiccup in June when he sustained a fractured finger, but he started throwing two weeks ago. Saunders hopes to give Brunell a lot of work early in camp and then downshift as the Minnesota game gets closer.

“We have to be very diligent on how much work he gets,” Saunders said. “If you have an old car, it probably tends to run down a little sooner. As we progress, [Campbell] will get a tremendous amount of work.”

When he gets into a rhythm, Brunell will have plenty of targets — running back Clinton Portis, tight end Chris Cooley and receivers Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd. The Redskins ranked 21st in passing offense last year.

“There are too many guys to throw to,” Brunell quipped. “I have to feed them and keep them happy. But that’s my job description — getting them the ball, whether it’s handing off or throwing it out there.

“We had a couple years in Jacksonville where we went 11-5 and 14-2. But I’m not quite sure I’ve been on a team with this much talent. It’s pretty special.”

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