On a broken play during the Washington Redskins' first week of training camp, Rodney Peete tucked the ball under his arm and took off for the end zone.
To veteran cornerback Darrell Green, the image was all too familiar. Last October, Peete ran 19 yards to give the Philadelphia Eagles their first touchdown en route to a 17-12 victory over the Redskins, dropping them to 0-6.
At 33, Peete is not the scrambler he once was. But through two weeks of training camp, he has showed enough mobility--augmented by football smarts and an aura of authority--to suggest that the Redskins would be in capable hands if injury interrupts starter Brad Johnson's season.
"As a backup, you have to be ready to play and you have to approach training camp and the preseason as if you're going to play that first game--because you never know," Peete said.
Coach Norv Turner has yet to declare Peete his No. 2 quarterback. And although Turner said today that competitor Casey Weldon helped himself with a 14-for-15 passing performance in Saturday's scrimmage victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, he added that Peete's veteran status gives him an edge.
"Rodney, as I've said all along, because he has more experience has a little bit of an advantage," Turner said. "But you don't know what's going to happen over the next month. Rodney has been awfully consistent through both weeks of practice. Casey is improving, and it shows."
In Peete, who is entering his 11th NFL season, Turner has a known quantity. Drafted by Detroit in the sixth round, Peete spent one season with Dallas and the last four with Philadelphia, both NFC East teams.
In his work with the second-team offense, Peete has shown accuracy, keen awareness of what's happening around him and prudent decisions. When his first and second receivers aren't open, his body language telegraphs no panic, just confidence.
"Coming out of college, I think that he felt like he should have been drafted higher, so he always has had a certain approach to this game, a certain maturity and high expectations for himself," Green said this week. "You could almost see that radiating out of him."
Redskins officials seem confident that if called upon as a starter, Peete wouldn't beat himself with mistakes, but would use his savvy to get the most out of the situation.
Johnson never has played more than 13 games in his five NFL seasons on an active roster and enters this season not fully recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery performed May 5. Given his history of injury, it's essential the Redskins protect the quarterback better than they did last year, when the offensive line surrendered a team-record 61 sacks.
Peete said the matter of protection has been "a point of emphasis" for the team and the quarterbacks--Johnson, Weldon and himself included.
"Everybody wants to point the finger at the offensive line, but not all the time is that just the offensive line," Peete said. "It's a combination of a lot of things."
To help in that regard, Peete said the quarterbacks are working to help reduce the pressure on the linemen up front.
"If that means getting rid of the ball sooner, making the right decisions, making quick decisions--it's going to be key for us to help them out," Peete said. "It works both ways."
With the move to the Redskins, Peete's football career comes full circle, reuniting him with Turner, the former Southern California assistant who recruited him out of high school. After April's NFL draft, in which Philadelphia picked Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb second overall and it became clear Peete wasn't part of new coach Andy Reid's plans, the Redskins moved quickly to get Peete, acquiring him for a sixth-round pick in 2000.
Peete, who has a 37-35 record as an NFL starter, characterizes the move as "a refreshing change."
He is somewhat familiar with Turner's offense, having played in a version of it for one year in Dallas, under offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese. It is a lot to learn, considering the number of variations and formations on a given play.
"On one way we call it, the tight end is running a particular route," Peete said. "We call the same play another way, it's the wide receiver running that route. Another way, it's the fullback running that route. . . . I'm not where I want to be yet. As a quarterback, you want to get to the point where you could just do it in your sleep and not think about it. Just react and play football."
Still, Peete's early efforts have drawn accolades.
"I'm very impressed with him, and I'm talking about very impressed," said former Redskins wide receiver Charlie Brown, a coaching intern during camp. "He moves around well in the pocket, makes great decisions and he has great control. That gives receivers a lot of confidence."
Wide receiver Albert Connell likes his spirit in the huddle.
"He keeps it fun, and you have to keep it fun," Connell said. "He's like, 'Come on! Let's get a big break, guys! Let's go! Let's do this! No one else is doing this; just us 11 guys!' It makes you want to go out there and just make plays."
Peete has played in 84 NFL games, starting 72. And even though the Redskins' starting job belongs to Johnson, Peete said he is preparing as if it is his--trying to learn as much as possible whether he's taking the snap or watching.
"If they decide at the end of training camp or at the end of the preseason that Casey is going to be the backup, then I've got to live with that," Peete said. "And I'm one to live with my role. But I know at some point there might be a time they're going to call on me. And I'm going to be ready for that."