Take a good look at Patrick Ramsey when he plays the second half of the Redskins' last exhibition game next week at FedEx Field. Remember what the rugged, willing but befuddled and scatter-armed Ramsey looks like wearing a helmet. If Mark Brunell stays healthy, it may be quite awhile before you witness Ramsey in Redskins combat again. The exhibition season that was supposed to be a quarterback competition is now a quarterback implosion.
On Friday night here at the Edward Jones Dome, Ramsey overthrew a wide-open receiver in the end zone. On a sideline pattern, he heaved one pass so far over an open receiver's head that it almost beaned unsuspecting coaches near the bench. On other plays, he overthrew on Joe Gibbs's favorite deep pattern -- the fade -- or his miscommunications with receivers left him tossing the ball in one direction while they cut in another.
The Rams confused him. But perhaps just as much, the Gibbs system, one that usually requires lots of veteran acclimation, obviously has Ramsey flummoxed. In training camp practices Ramsey has explained how odd it feels to throw before his receiver has made his final cut. The trust between passer and receiver must be total. Now, as the season draws near and the quality of the opposition improves, it's becoming clear that Ramsey isn't close to mastering the Gibbs method. The pressure to keep his job, or at least make a good showing as the nominal incumbent, has apparently rattled him, too.
"It's difficult. I'm finally starting to get it," Ramsey said after the Rams' 28-3 thumping of the Redskins. "The longer I'm in this offense, the better I understand it." But he certainly doesn't yet grasp it at anything like the elevated level Gibbs will require of a starter.
Last season, when Ramsey, 25, was swamped by pass rushers and pounded so mercilessly that a whole city winced for him, he managed a kind of brutal gallantry. In an offense unsuited to the NFL and without even a hint of a running game, Ramsey managed decent statistics, such as a 75.8 rating, while winning four games before a foot injury mercifully ended his year.
After just four preseason games it seems hard to believe that Ramsey could regress so quickly. Especially under the tutelage of a coach who got to the Hall of Fame, in part, because he could win titles with quarterbacks few others wanted. It was an NFL axiom that every quarterback, protected by Gibbs blocking schemes and aided by his play-action passing game, got better as soon as Joe touched him. Not Ramsey. Not so far, anyway.
After a 5-for-10 passing night in a first half in which he generated only three points, Ramsey is now 15 for 37, with 196 yards, 1 interception, 2 fumbled snaps and 0 touchdown passes. The realization is growing that, relative to most quarterbacks his age, Ramsey has had very rudimentary football schooling. In high school, he was nationally known as a javelin thrower as much or more than a quarterback. At Tulane, hardly a college power, he spent most of his time proving his courage behind poor offensive lines. Then, finally, as a Redskin, he spent two years of his career learning the one offensive system on the planet that is of no use whatsoever to an NFL quarterback: Steve Spurrier's chuck 'n' duck.
These are the times when good character, popularity with teammates, fine work habits and a history of physical courage under great duress will stand Ramsey in fine stead. If he played this poorly and had other NFL weaknesses besides, it might be easy for the Redskins to lose patience with his development. But in terms of physical gifts, a bright mind and an unassuming manner, Ramsey is practically a prototype.
After the Rams game, his voice hoarse, he took responsibility like a veteran for his fourth straight disappointing night. "I've got to make a better throw on that," he said of the missed touchdown. "I have to learn from it all."
If there's a silver lining, it's that Ramsey presumably now understands what Gibbs grasped as soon as he saw last season's tapes: He's not ready yet. Someday, probably. Now, learn the game from a master. When the Redskins signed Brunell, Ramsey initially made noises through his agent that he wanted to be traded, implying that he'd proved he had the NFL right stuff. Gibbs convinced him that he'd be given a fair chance in the preseason to keep his job.
The fair chance was given. Though Ramsey will play again in the second half next week, the verdict has, for all intents and purposes arrived. If Brunell stays vertical, he plays.
Just as Ramsey was getting an abrupt reminder of his true place in the scheme of things, the Rams were providing the entire Redskins team with a rude reality check. Maybe the new Gibbs era actually began here on Friday night with this 28-3 blowout, courtesy of the gifted and extremely impolite Rams.
Welcome back, Joe. Remember what it's like to take a good one-sided licking?
When a team that went 5-11 last season visits the home of a 12-4 perennial powerhouse just two weeks before the season opens, that's what's supposed to happen. The proven-quality team dominates, even when it plays sloppily. The struggling club that's trying to rebuild every facet of its team can't do anything right and, instead of discovering answers at key positions, finds itself left with more questions.
Yet until the Rams trotted off at halftime here with a 14-3 lead, it was easy to forget how far the Redskins have fallen in the 11 years since Gibbs left. Despite the largest payroll in NFL history, they are not merely a work in progress but, probably, like Ramsey, a work that has barely begun.
"That was a very dominating performance by the Rams. We didn't play Redskin football and it starts with me," Gibbs said. ""We were disappointed in every single phase. I can't think of anything we did well."
The Redskins have time, and a reasonable schedule, on their side. Thanks to its rotten record last year, Washington faces only four teams that made the playoffs last year.
So one bitter night for Ramsey and many of his fellow Redskins should not leave too sour a taste. This night should just be a useful reminder that the Redskins, even with Gibbs leading the construction project, weren't rebuilt in a day.