Brunell Is Anticipating Big Things

"The thing that Mark [Brunell] has that you can't coach is experience," said assistant coach Al Saunders, right, watching the quarterback during drills. (Preston Keres - The Post)
By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

For anyone who might be curious about how Mark Brunell -- unquestionably the most crucial ingredient to a Washington Redskins team already soaring with expectations -- feels about the upcoming season, the quarterback took off his pads yesterday and eliminated any shreds of ambiguity.

"There's no question. And it should be that way," Brunell said after the Redskins worked out in full pads for the first time in front of a crowd team officials estimated at 2,700. "The expectations are high outside this building, but they're probably higher inside the building. We expect big things. Anything short of going all the way would be a disappointment."

Brunell, sporting both the sweat of the humid 93-degree day as well as a shadowy beard, clarified his position, just in case he was unclear.

"To come off a year where we had quite a bit of success, again, to repeat that type of effort, go 10-6 and only get as far as we got last year, I think for all these guys would be a disappointment," he said. "That's where our mind-set is. It's not [bragging]or making predictions. That's just what we think."

Brunell worked out with the first-team offense during the two-hour workout at Redskins Park, his first full-squad workout after fracturing his left index finger two months ago. It was an injury that forced him to miss June's minicamp. Brunell said he resumed throwing about two weeks ago and did so without pain or discomfort.

While Brunell worked with the first team, Todd Collins worked almost exclusively with the second. Collins, who signed a free agent contract in the offseason, is valuable to the Redskins because he played under the Redskins' new associate head coach for offense, Al Saunders, in Kansas City for the past five years. Collins took almost all of the snaps with the second-team offense against the second-team defense.

Former first-round draft pick Jason Campbell took a handful of snaps yesterday. The Redskins said Collins and Campbell will alternate days backing up Brunell during training camp, with Campbell expected to take more snaps today. Coach Joe Gibbs cautioned against reading too much into the rotation, noting that it was inappropriate to make any real evaluation of players on the first day of practice. Still, players and coaches say that, at this point, because of his familiarity with Saunders's offense, Collins is ahead of Campbell in terms of timing, footwork and understanding the nuances of the offensive system.

Brunell said that although the foundation of Sanders's offense is similar to that of Gibbs, the terminology in the playbook is different. In effect, Brunell said, he must adapt to an entirely new offensive environment.

"It's a different system. There's a lot of different terminology. A lot of different route combinations, protections, you name it," Brunell said. "But it's proven to be effective. It was quite a concession, but I don't know if surprised is the word because you know that Coach Gibbs has the team's best interest in mind and that was the smart thing to do."

Saunders said that he had little concern about Brunell's ability to adapt.

"The thing that Mark has that you can't coach is experience," Saunders said. "He's been in the league for 12 or 13 years. He's experienced a variety of different styles of offense. So he's adaptable to the things that we're doing. He's a very competitive guy, a great leader who has the respect of every guy on the team. And I think those are qualities that will give him the potential for great success. We're not asking for our quarterback to win the game. We're asking our quarterback to manage the game."

Brunell was taken by the different new pieces to the revamped offense. The Redskins spent lavishly on acquiring players in the offseason, in large part to avoid the offensive malaise that befell them during stretches last year, when wideout Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley carried virtually the entire offensive load. The great benefactor from the arrival of explosive wide receivers Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd, of course, is Brunell.

"I'm thrilled. We have a lot of talent at that position. The hard part is that there are so many good receivers, getting the ball to all of them is going to be difficult," Brunell said. "There are too many guys to throw to, and that is where I feel the most pressure. I have to be able to keep them happy, but that's my job description."

Brunell's health is the most important question of the year facing the Redskins. Campbell carries the potential that accompanies being a first-round selection, but he has never started an NFL game. Collins is versed in the Saunders philosophy, but has totaled only 27 passes since 2001.

"On paper, yes, we have a whole new offense. A pretty good package," Moss said. "But until we get out there, all we're doing right now is talking."

Still, Brunell did not make any attempts to temper his excitement or expectations for this season.

"The pressure is on year in and year out for the starting quarterback, so it's no different," he said. "When expectations are really high, obviously the pressure is high. But everyone feels that way."

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