Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs ended the suspense yesterday over his starting quarterback for tomorrow night's game against the Dallas Cowboys by naming Mark Brunell over Patrick Ramsey. Gibbs announced his decision after practice, the next-to-last workout before the nationally televised game.
The decision didn't turn out to be difficult, as Brunell progressively mended from a pulled hamstring suffered during last week's 20-14 loss to the New York Giants.
Brunell "looked good, so we'll start Mark," Gibbs said.
Brunell took about two-thirds of the snaps with the first team yesterday. Friday, the 11-year veteran participated in about one-third after barely working out Thursday. Brunell, whose status was officially upgraded from questionable to probable, has soreness, but feels healthy enough to start. Brunell studied the game plan and pored over film to prepare for the game.
"I didn't have to persuade him [Gibbs] or anything like that," said Brunell, who is 23 for 42 this season with one touchdown and one interception for a 67.3 rating. "He asked if I felt if I could go and I said yes. It would be a night game and having an extra day Sunday [to recuperate]. At the same time, he wanted to make sure I had a good day today.
"I felt pretty good. I got the majority of the reps and certainly didn't set it back. The big concern is that over the course of the week, if you do too much you could re-injure it, but that didn't happen."
Until today, Ramsey took most of the snaps and appeared to be the likely starter against Dallas. Gibbs made his decision yesterday morning, but wanted to see Brunell in one more workout before making his choice official. Ramsey was eager to start his first game this season, and make amends for three interceptions last week in relief of Brunell.
"Pat and I talked about it, he understands," Gibbs said. "It's just like last week. [Brunell might] be in one play. That's the life those guys live."
Gibbs said that being noncommittal about his quarterback situation during the week wasn't an attempt to keeping the information from Dallas. "It wasn't to hide somebody," Gibbs said. "We were honestly going through it."
Linebacker Lemar Marshall still hasn't told his family in Cincinnati that he is expected to make his NFL starting debut against the Cowboys tomorrow because LaVar Arrington (right knee surgery) is out.
"It's a great feeling but I'm trying to downplay it," said Marshall, who was one of the last players to leave Redskins Park yesterday after watching film. "I'm not trying to get all caught up in the emotions saying, 'I'm starting on Monday night.' It's a great opportunity.
"I haven't called my family back at home. I want to surprise them actually. I know if I call them, I'm going to get caught up in the emotions. So I'm going to let them find out Monday night. I just told them I'm playing Monday."
Nonetheless, it is not just another game for Marshall, a third-year veteran from Michigan State who was undrafted as a rookie and has only 10 tackles and a half-sack as a reserve. Despite the modest statistics, Marshall professes confidence about filling in for Arrington. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder has made appearances in 28 NFL games off the bench as an outside linebacker. In Washington's first two games, Marshall played in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
Marshall's niche in the NFL has been on special teams -- he plays on four coverage and return units. Marshall joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then bounced around trying to stick in the NFL. He played for Denver and Philadelphia before the Redskins signed him at the end of the 2001 season.
"Lemar is just like A.P. He's a smart guy, he knows football," said linebacker Marcus Washington, referring to Antonio Pierce, who has performed well replacing the injured Mike Barrow. "He's worked hard all week, and I think it will show in the game."
Marshall isn't the only Redskins defensive player making his NFL starting debut: Ron Warner is expected to start for right defensive end Phillip Daniels, whose torn groin will cause him to miss at least two games. Warner, who made the roster after a strong preseason, has played in only eight games during his three-year career.
"I feel great," Warner said. "I have big shoes to fill but I'm up to the challenge."