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Ramsey to Start Next Season

Gibbs: Redskins QB Progressing

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2004; Page D01

Coach Joe Gibbs yesterday named Patrick Ramsey his starting quarterback for the 2005 season over Mark Brunell. Ramsey had been the incumbent before losing his job to Brunell during a quarterback competition in training camp, but with Brunell statistically the NFL's worst starter through nine games, Ramsey replaced him and has performed well in Gibbs's ball-control offense.

"We're starting Patrick. That's who we're going with," Gibbs said at his weekly news conference when asked about Ramsey's status next season. "He's our guy. We're hoping he continues to progress."

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Gibbs said there wasn't a specific game or moment when he made the decision, but noted his reluctance to pull starters, as well as Ramsey's improvement. Neither Ramsey nor Brunell was available to comment, with players given three days off and returning to practice tomorrow.

In five starts, Ramsey has completed 65.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and three interceptions. His strong 83.3 quarterback rating would place him eighth in the NFC (if he qualified with enough starts); better than well-respected quarterbacks such has as Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck (81.8) and Atlanta's Michael Vick (76.6), and not far from Green Bay's Brett Favre (88.7).

By comparison, Brunell has career lows in a 49.8 completions percentage and a 63.9 rating -- last in the NFC. Brunell -- who entered the season as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in NFL history -- has thrown seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

In nine starts this season, Brunell threw for 1,194 yards, compared to Ramsey's 939. But, most impressive has been the way Ramsey has learned to manage Gibbs's conservative offense.

Ramsey was selected in the first round of the 2002 draft after rewriting Tulane's record book. In two seasons under Coach Steve Spurrier, he played in a system that emphasized passing downfield. Ramsey -- who has one of the strongest arms in the NFL -- has reinvented himself to display the qualities Gibbs cherished in Brunell.

Brunell has been supportive of Ramsey while admitting the change has been difficult. Although Brunell was a backup quarterback to rookie Byron Leftwich with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, Brunell lost his starting job because of injury.

Even after Brunell was benched this season, he reiterated that he came to Washington strictly to be the starter. But Gibbs said yesterday that he spoke recently with Brunell, and told him that he would play an important role next season.

"Mark is first of all a consummate pro," Gibbs said. "I think he understands things. I think as an offensive team, earlier in the year, when he was playing, we weren't playing as well as we're playing right now, all the way around. . . .

"I know one thing, you won't have a guy going in that's panicked playing the football game. The guy's got tons of experience. And I think he could bounce in there right now and play extremely well for us."

Releasing Brunell, 34, would be difficult under the salary cap. If the Redskins waive him or if he retires before April 11, his contract would cost the club about $7 million against the cap in 2005. If the scenario occurred after June 1, the Redskins would incur a cap hit of about $2 million in 2005 and $6 million in 2006.

Gibbs's first personnel move after returning to the NFL was acquiring Brunell, signing him to seven-year, $43 million deal that included a signing bonus of more than $8 million. The decision spurred the assumption around the NFL that Brunell would be the starter despite Gibbs's insistence on open competition.

Ramsey struggled during the preseason, completing only 45 percent of his passes. He admitted that his confidence reached a low point before Brunell was officially named starter.

Despite Brunell's struggles, Gibbs was characteristically reluctant to switch quarterbacks. Gibbs ignored media criticism and initial chants by fans calling for a change. When Gibbs was asked yesterday if he waited too long, he responded: "As I went forward into the season, to me it was the right timing. Everybody else, I'm afraid you have to suffer with my thoughts and my timing."

Ramsey initially replaced Brunell in the second quarter of Washington's Nov. 14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, and Gibbs subsequently named Ramsey starter. In two relief appearances this year, Ramsey had two touchdown passes and five interceptions while completing 27 of 55 passes (49.1 percent). But things have been dramatically different for Ramsey as a starter, despite three games against the tough defenses of the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Washington's third quarterback is Tim Hasselbeck, and Gibbs said he sees no reason to pursue any others. "I feel real comfortable with our quarterback situation," he said.

Redskins Notes: Cornerback Shawn Springs, who missed Saturday's game with a concussion, was examined by a doctor yesterday and was cleared to return to practice. "It looks like he'll play Sunday," director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer said. . . .

Cornerback Fred Smoot has been awarded the B.J. Blanchard Good Guy Award from the local media for being the most cooperative player with the press this season. . . . Players will distribute toys to over 500 children at FedEx Field today as part of their annual charity drive.

Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company