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For Ramsey, It's Now or Never

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Whenever Patrick Ramsey thinks his job is secure, he knows he's the only quarterback on the roster not handpicked by Joe Gibbs. Whenever he feels good about his play and his team, Ramsey must know Gibbs brought in Mark Brunell to take his job a year ago and in April drafted Auburn's Jason Campbell, who naturally would like to replace Ramsey this year.

"Initially, when I heard about [Campbell], I thought, 'What's going on? What's the plan here?' " Ramsey said.

He calmed down after Gibbs explained he rarely passed on drafting a talented quarterback in the first round. "He made clear his reasons for doing it weren't solely to replace me," Ramsey said.

Solely?

"We'll cross those other avenues if we come to them," Ramsey said. "But it's certainly there, in the back of my mind. If I falter and don't play well, I'd be ignorant not to recognize that. It's the NFL. You don't produce, you don't play."

What a realistic, adult perspective from a guy nearly traded before he played a down for the Redskins.

In the four years since the Chicago Bears almost dealt for him, Ramsey's employers have benched him, failed to protect him and toyed with his psyche in hopes that some quarterback -- any quarterback, it seems, except Patrick Ramsey -- would emerge as the franchise's future starter.

Steve Spurrier's fascination with everything Gator -- Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews -- meant Ramsey didn't get the starting nod in 2002 until the University of Florida first failed. In 2003, he made the cover of the team's media guide and started well before unofficially becoming the most punished quarterback in the NFL. Ramsey played in an offense in which protection was an afterthought.

Gibbs was hired in January 2004 and immediately went out and did what Gibbs does: find a tested veteran to move the ball, kill the clock and win games. When Brunell was not the answer, Ramsey was reluctantly brought in.

It's not exactly the conventional way to nurture and bring along a young quarterback -- in fact, Ramsey's career has been a study in how not to develop a player.

Yet he is still here, comfortably taking snaps out of the shotgun on a hot, sticky summer afternoon in Ashburn. The shotgun for Gibbs -- who equates six-yard hitches to Art Monk with throwing downfield -- is a dramatic offensive concession. It's a scheme catering not to plodders but to cannons.

"This is his big opportunity, he knows it," said Jon Jansen, the right tackle and Ramsey's best friend on the roster. "The offense, the confidence coach has shown in him, everything. It's a big year in the NFL for him. That's when quarterbacks are supposed to show they can play and win at this level. He's ready."

There is little choice. Ramsey is 26, entering the most seminal season of his career. With a year remaining on his contract, this is likely it for him and the franchise -- an almost win-or-be-waived proposition.

This is the season Ramsey must show the Redskins and the NFL he is so much more than a thoughtful, sensitive kid with an everybody-go-long arm.

The feeling here is, he will.

Why? Beginning with the vote of confidence from Gibbs, Ramsey finally has a real support system in place. Bill Musgrave, the new quarterbacks coach, has worked long and hard in the offseason toward developing Ramsey into a leader with equal parts poise, feel and purpose.

Ramsey won't go so far as to say Gibbs's new offense is tailor-made for his talent, but "there are more aspects of what we installed that fit my game."

"The shotgun gives me some space between those big 6-6 guys in front of you," he said. "I'm really liking a lot of what we're doing."

He spoke while sitting in the front seat of a truck on his way back to where he and his teammates will be housed for the next couple of weeks. The first practice of his fourth training camp was done.

No rift or lingering resentment exists between Gibbs and the quarterback who got the job only after Brunell and the coach's old-fangled offense self-destructed last season. Gibbs may have looked pained each time reporters asked him to commit to starting Ramsey in the offseason, something he finally did in December.

And drafting Campbell after Ramsey was named the starter was, at the least, an incredibly odd way for the head coach and team president to build the mental stability of a player already wondering whether he is Gibbs's No. 1 guy.

Gibbs has doled out his trust for Ramsey incrementally, like a tough-love father who cannot yet bring himself to say his boy has made him proud.

That's all right. For his part, Ramsey has stopped playing the show-me-respect-and-play-me game. He understands he is not a 10-year veteran with playoff experience. He is a fourth-year player with a fair shot to prove he can be an everyday player on a good team. The job is his to keep or lose.

"When you look back at this Mark thing last year and drafting Jason this year, it only makes me a better quarterback," Ramsey said. "I know it sounds like a coverup for being upset, but I'm not just saying that.

"I've got a different perspective about those things now. I know it's pretty simple. If I don't play well, those guys are behind me. That's just the way it is. If anything, it motivates me."

There are far worse circumstances in life than having to move to another NFL team. Look around the league. Tim Rattay is competing for a starting job in San Francisco. Rex Grossman is hoping for the same in Chicago. Drew Bledsoe is starting over in Dallas. Brian Griese is getting a shot in Tampa. You don't have to be a star to be coveted at the position.

If things did not work for Ramsey, he could always go somewhere else and try and start.

But now that he's finally got a genuine shot to lead and win, why not see if he's the guy for the long haul?

© 2005 The Washington Post Company