By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
With his team's World Bowl hopes fading Saturday, and the final minute of regulation ticking down, Casey Bramlet unleashed a perfect 50-yard strike for a game-winning touchdown, giving Hamburg a 33-31 lead and securing its biggest victory of the NFL Europa season.
That moment was one of several recent triumphs for Bramlet, a free agent signed by the Washington Redskins this offseason, and might boost his confidence when he reports to Washington for training camp next month. Then again, given the uncertainty that always comes with trying to project too much from NFL Europa success, Bramlet's heroics against Frankfurt might be the highlight of his professional career.
For him, finding a way to crack the Redskins' final roster this summer as the third-string quarterback would qualify as a major accomplishment, and thus far, the decision to apprentice in Europe this spring looks like a smart one.
While the Redskins' other quarterbacks -- veterans Jason Campbell, Mark Brunell and Todd Collins, and rookies Jordan Palmer and Sam Hollenbach -- spent the last six weeks training and practicing at the team's facility -- Bramlet gambled that the chance to get game action in a league thousands of miles away would best serve him.
With one game to play -- and a berth in the June 23 World Bowl highly probable -- Bramlet, 26, leads NFL Europa with a 15-5 touchdown/interception ratio (he is tied for the lead in touchdown passes). He is second overall with 1,810 yards through nine games and is third with a 100.0 rating (he had a poor 73.7 rating in Europe in 2005). Bramlet is completing 60.5 percent of his passes -- less than ideal -- but has shown an ability to absorb a playbook and lead an offense.
"I knew I had a chance to be successful if I came over here, and I just wanted to make the most of the opportunity," Bramlet said in a telephone interview from Hamburg after a recent practice. "After I came over the last time , I felt like I got better as a leader and as a quarterback, and there are so many things that go into this position that you just can't duplicate unless you are actually playing games -- leading the huddle, knowing the playbook, the timing of the game -- and that's what makes it so great having the chance to play over here."
After getting cut by the Redskins last summer, Bramlet, who graduated from Wyoming in 2004, reached another crossroads. He had not spent an entire season in the NFL since his rookie year, 2004, when he bounced between second and third string for the Cincinnati Bengals, who signed him as an undrafted free agent.
During last year's training camp with Washington, with the top quarterbacks learning a new offense, Bramlet had extremely limited action in the preseason before being released (he never appeared in an exhibition game), and has not taken regular snaps since Bengals camp in 2005.
Going to Europe, and rebuilding his game-day muscle memory, seemed like the thing to do, and the Redskins were on board with the plan. Bramlet has been near the leader of the six-team league, splitting time at quarterback in the first game before taking over full time.
"From every report I get he's doing great," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "I think Casey is somebody we like, and certainly he's made the most of his opportunity over there."
Quarterbacks Coach Bill Lazor is keeping the closest eye on Bramlet. They exchange e-mails on occasion and every Monday Lazor checks the Europa stats to see where Bramlet stands. Lazor has seen Bramlet play some on NFL Network broadcasts from Europe -- he tuned in about 15 seconds after Bramlet's winning pass Saturday -- and, once the coaching game film arrives at Redskins Park (it takes some time for it to arrive from Germany), Lazor views segments of that as well.
"Our number one goal for Casey was to go over and be productive, and obviously he's done a really good job of that," Lazor said. "I've seen him a bunch of ways -- live, on replays or game film -- and it looks like this has been really good for him. He looks like he is playing with a lot of confidence and is doing a really good job on his presence in the pocket."
Whether any of this translates to Washington remains to be seen. The NFL Europa record book is littered with former top passers such as Gibran Hamdan and Danny Wuerffel (record 25 touchdown passes in Europe in 2000), former Redskins who have never came close to playing at a high level in the NFL, although it was also the breeding ground for future starters Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme.
Bramlet also faces a crowded crop of quarterbacks to compete with here. Campbell is the clear starter, and Brunell, once 100 percent recovered from labrum surgery, is the backup.
Should Brunell prove to be fully fit, the team could part with the veteran Collins, who hopes to get a chance to be at least a No. 2 quarterback before his career is over. The Redskins would like to identify a young, inexpensive quarterback to serve as a backup down the road, and Bramlet hopes his time is now, even if it means just carrying a clipboard on the sideline this year.
"That's what I am going for," said Bramlet, whose younger brother Corey is a quarterback with Amsterdam. "I know I am not competing for the starting job or the backup job, and I just want to find a way to make the team. I'm ready to come to Washington and try to take over there where I left off."