Collins Knows His Role Well in Saunders's Script

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By Mike Wise
Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dick Vermeil was on the line yesterday afternoon, expounding on the quarterbacking virtues of Todd Collins.

Efficient, the coach said of the 36-year-old career backup, whom he once had in Kansas City. Accurate. Prepared. Too smart to be fooled.

Two days after Jason Campbell went down against the Bears and Collins surrendered his headset and engineered Washington's first victory in a month, Vermeil finally added, "This is not a normal backup."

He's right -- in varied ways. Collins isn't just the player who will start his first NFL game since the Clinton administration. As he prepares for the New York Giants next Sunday, he is less of Campbell's replacement and more of an ideal.

Collins represents the hope that someone, anyone, can directly convey Al Saunders's many and varied offensive ideas to a group of players sometimes still grasping for a clue.

Two years after Joe Gibbs hired the wizard behind Vermeil's offensive machine in Kansas City -- Saunders also won a Super Bowl ring in St. Louis under Vermeil as his quarterback coach to Kurt Warner -- the Redskins don't score enough or convert many crucial plays at the end of tight games.

With few exceptions, this offense is not a juggernaut. Instead, one of the men who brought you The Greatest Show on Turf is now on a staff responsible for One of the Most Depressing Shows on Natural Grass.

But now Saunders has his quarterback, the player he specifically brought with him from Kansas City to help communicate the design and schemes of that voluminous playbook -- the 750-page tome that has confounded Mark Brunell, Campbell and a proud and stubborn team that still wonders why the wheel had to be reinvented after going to the playoffs in 2005.

Collins's immediate job is to beat the Giants in New Jersey, the Vikings in Minnesota and Dallas at FedEx Field so he can salvage what's left of this bad dream of a season. But abstractly, his performance will essentially be a referendum on Saunders's true value to Gibbs as an offensive coordinator.

Lost in the debate over whether the offense is Gibbs's or Saunders's is the singular goal of developing Campbell into a consistent winner. And if that is a franchise's stated objective, there is no way Saunders's entire arsenal was ever going to be unveiled this season or last.

"It was too much for Campbell or any young quarterback," Vermeil said. "The volume is so great. Joe Gibbs and Al Saunders did the right thing -- restrict the package to fit his maturity. They aren't running the entire offense right now. Watch. At the start of next season, Jason will be much better than he is now because he'll get more reps in this offense."

Time in this offense is the only remedy, which Collins's has seven years' worth of learning and practicing.


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