By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Sam Hollenbach remembered well the days when football practice was mostly filled with discussions of the rudimentary elements of plays and watching the quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart take a majority of the practice snaps.
The last time he did that was in 2002, when he took a redshirt season for the Maryland Terrapins, and surely he thought that would be a one-time experience.
But while he may not have had to worry about attending mechanical engineering classes on top of learning the playbook, Hollenbach found himself in a somewhat familiar position last weekend at the Washington Redskins' minicamp.
"It's hard to not be frustrated if you do something wrong, because as rookies, you don't get too many reps," said Hollenbach, who became a two-year starter for the Terrapins. "But the coaches are supportive, and they expect us to be making more mistakes than the" veterans.
Similar to his first collegiate season, Hollenbach is surrounded on the Redskins' roster by the present (Jason Campbell), the past (Mark Brunell) and what might be the future (2007 sixth-round draft pick Jordan Palmer). Add veteran backup Todd Collins and NFL Europe-allocated Casey Bramlet to the mix, and the number of names Hollenbach has to leapfrog to keep a spot on the roster grows even larger.
The Redskins will carry three quarterbacks into the season and keep one other for the practice squad, which means six quarterbacks are fighting for four positions. Campbell is the starter and either Brunell or Collins likely will be the top reserve. A source close to the matter said Redskins officials have indicated the team will not keep both Brunell, 36, and Collins, 35, on the active roster.
That would leave a spot open for Palmer, Bramlet or Hollenbach. Though given more snaps than Hollenbach during the minicamp, Palmer appeared shakier, often throwing wobbly passes and missing his target. Bramlet has been successful overseas in leading the Hamburg Sea Devils to a berth in Saturday's World Bowl XV.
"With [Coach] Joe Gibbs and [associate head coach] Al Saunders, they don't really care if someone was a draft pick; they're not obligated to keep him," said George Mavrikes, Hollenbach's agent. "If you're in Europe, you miss the OTAs [organized team activities], so you're behind the eight ball a little bit."
And then there's Hollenbach, stuck in the unenviable position of having too much potential to ignore but not enough hype (or draft status) to provide more playing time in practice, which is why, for the time being, he is mastering the art of people-watching.
"A big part of playing backup quarterback in the NFL is being able to learn what's going in on days like [those during minicamp] without taking reps," Hollenbach said. "I need to be able to learn from other people's mistakes on the field."
So if Campbell makes a mistake on a pass here, or Brunell misreads a defense there, Hollenbach had better be making good mental notes, because he knows his window of opportunity is small.
"He has a strong enough arm, the type of size and the mobility you would want in an NFL quarterback," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I don't think he's fully developed yet; to be honest, he was just getting the hang of the position his last year here."
A bright side to having three proven quarterbacks standing next to Hollenbach on the practice field is that the rookie has plenty of brains to pick on the finer points of the trade. "Even the smallest questions I have, I'll ask Mark or Jason or Todd," Hollenbach said. "They've all been very helpful."
Hollenbach's opportunistic tendencies bode well for him, according to Redskins quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor. "To be a good backup quarterback in the NFL, you've got to be a smart guy, a self-disciplined guy and a self-motivated guy, so that you can keep working in drills when you're not getting the number one reps."
For the past two years, Hollenbach was the focus of practices; he was used to being the center of attention. While Lazor said he and the rest of the coaching staff understand where Hollenbach is coming from, he also said the young quarterback must quickly learn to adjust.
"The key is, he's got to take advantage of every opportunity he gets, no matter how small it seems," Lazor said. "When he gets reps in practice, he's got to make every one of them count."
Mavrikes said Hollenbach's main priority is to earn the No. 3 spot and develop from there. Hollenbach would say only that he intends to keep up a good attitude and learn as much as he can.
As for what he has been told by Redskins coaches about his future with the team, Hollenbach could be only as vague and as hopeful as the team has been with him.
"Coach Saunders is just saying: 'You keep working. We know you aren't getting as many reps as you want right now, but that's life right now,' " Hollenbach said. "He kind of equated it to a redshirt year in college, where they're looking for a quarterback who's not necessarily going to take snaps this year in games, but [for someone] who's going to be able to learn and progress and possibly play in the future."