- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2008

Time seemed to have passed Mark Brunell by last season. Washington’s starting quarterback as recently as November 2006, Brunell was demoted to third string by coach Joe Gibbs after that season and never played a down in 2007. He voided his contract with the Redskins in March, not knowing whether his career was over.

However, the three-time Pro Bowl selection returns to the District on Sunday as the New Orleans Saints’ backup quarterback. Brunell likely will never start again, but as he turns 38 next week, his love of the game has returned.

“I spent last year as the third guy, and that’s something I didn’t want to do again,” Brunell said in an interview with The Washington Times. “You’re out of the mix. You’re not going to get on the field. I didn’t want to go out like that. I still love the game. I love competing. I love being in the locker room and being on a team, everything that goes with this job.

“I’d like to keep doing it as long as I can, and I’m really happy to be in a good spot. I was looking for an opportunity to be a backup, and I have that here.”

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, in his seventh year as a starter, has bonded with Brunell. They had lunch the day of this interview and Brunell sat next to Brees during the starter’s conference call with the Washington media Wednesday.

“Mark’s been awesome,” Brees said. “He’s been great for me as a mentor, a guy who can really contribute a lot to the meetings, on the practice field and on game day.”

As long as Brees stays healthy, Brunell won’t play on any game days this season, but the former Jacksonville Jaguars star had a 112.3 passer rating in the preseason.

“I hadn’t played since the previous preseason, and even then I didn’t get a lot of time so it was nice to go out there and have some success,” Brunell said. “I got a lot of time. I was able to work with the first group quite a bit. As the preseason went on, I felt more and more comfortable with the offense. I was somewhat familiar with it from my Green Bay days [1992-94] in a similar offense. It was fun to get out there and compete.”

Brunell endured criticism in Washington in 2006 for his fading arm, but Saints coach Sean Payton, a one-time replacement game passer, doesn’t see that.

“Mark’s still got good arm strength,” Payton said. “He anticipates well. He had a good training camp and offseason. There’s a little bit of a calmness when he steps in the huddle. The players around him feel very relaxed when he’s running the show.

“I’ve been a big Mark Brunell fan for a long time, and it’s great now having the chance to work with him. He’s a very talented player, and I think he still has some gas left in his tank.”

That’s debatable. The Redskins were 10-11 in Brunell’s last 21 starts (including two playoff games) as he compiled a 79.3 passer rating with 3,510 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. They’re 8-13 under replacement Jason Campbell, who has a 77.4 rating with 4,130 yards, 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

“I’m honestly not carrying a lot of emotions into this game,” said Brunell, who stays in touch with Campbell and fellow quarterback Todd Collins as well as offensive linemen Jon Jansen and Casey Rabach. “I was in Washington for four years. Professionally, it wasn’t ideal many times, but there’s no revenge or anything like that. Some of my favorite memories in the NFL, I was wearing a Redskins jersey: clinching the playoffs in ‘05, beating the Jaguars [in 2006 in his last reunion game], the Monday night game against Dallas [in 2005], the Houston game [in 2006 when he set an NFL record with 22 straight completions], getting the starting job back in the ‘05 opener.

“The thing that’s going to be weird is seeing some friends that I’m not on the same team with anymore. Hopefully we’ll get a win, and afterwards it will be nice to shake hands and wish these guys well.”

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