Quarterback Patrick Ramsey -- donning a helmet, white jersey and burgundy shorts -- looked as comfortable as the breeze felt on the sunny first day of Joe Gibbs's three-day minicamp. During passing drills early in practice at Redskins Park, Ramsey was followed by Mark Brunell, whom Gibbs signed last year to a seven-year, $43 million contract. Next was Jason Campbell, the strapping rookie Washington selected 25th overall in April's draft.
The threesome took turns on intermediate passes -- curls, comeback routes and slants -- to Washington's speedy new receivers. Dropping back, under the watchful eyes of Gibbs and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, no signal-caller displayed the arm strength or self-assurance of Ramsey.
The 26-year-old displayed an air of confidence despite being surrounded by competition from players acquired at high costs. And it was a sharp contrast to Ramsey's psyche last offseason, when he lost the starting job to Brunell.
"Last year in preseason, I don't think Patrick was very relaxed," Gibbs said yesterday. "Maybe it was because of what we we're doing, or the change or whatever. You're never quite sure.
"But I think he's much more confident in what were doing now, and he's much more relaxed. I see a confidence about him, like he feels comfortable with what we're doing, much more so than last year. Hopefully, that pays off with good play."
After regaining his starting job in the 10th game last season, Ramsey altered his style in order to improve on the qualities suited for Gibbs's ball-control offense. Recently, he has had virtually perfect attendance at Redskins Park.
"He's been terrific," Musgrave said. "He knows our system like the back of his hand, and he's got an incredibly strong arm. So he's had a real good May and June."
Because Ramsey appears to have a smaller margin for error than the typical NFL starter -- with Brunell and perhaps Campbell in the shadows -- his increased confidence is just as significant as his improved play.
"I certainly feel as confident as I've ever been as a quarterback in the NFL," said Ramsey, who completed a career-high 62 percent and started seven games last season. "It's also time for me to play my best. That's what I'm working everyday to get to."
When Ramsey replaced Brunell, the left-hander was statistically the worst NFL starter with a league- and career-low 49.8 percent accuracy. Nonetheless, there is some sentiment within the organization, including players who praise Ramsey, that Brunell didn't benefit from Gibbs's adjusting his offense toward the end of the season. For his part, Gibbs has repeatedly cautioned reporters about writing off Brunell this season.
Ramsey should benefit from not having to undergo another official quarterback competition. After Brunell was acquired last year, the two quarterbacks split the practice snaps -- and alternated starting in exhibitions -- until Brunell won the job late in training camp. Both quarterbacks appeared to be hindered by the process. Ramsey completed just 45 percent of his passes in the exhibition season and later admitted his confidence reached a nadir even before Brunell won the job.
"I think it was important for me to play last year," Ramsey said, "learn from that."
Now that Ramsey has been named the starter, he will direct more than 90 percent of the offense's practice plays beginning in training camp.
"If you ask me, Patrick is night and day from last year," tailback Clinton Portis said yesterday. "I think Pat stepped in last year at a time when we needed a spark, and he performed well. This year you look at Pat, and he looks like Peyton Manning. He's not Peyton Manning, but the difference in him [is] the leadership role, where he's putting the ball and his accuracy, the patience he has now. You could say that he's comfortable."
Former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said of Ramsey yesterday after watching practice: "You really can't worry about: 'What about Mark? What about Jason? Oh my God, they drafted a quarterback in the first round.' I've been in that situation before, and all you can focus on is the task at hand."
The Redskins have implemented the shotgun formation, which should help Ramsey, who has been criticized for sometimes holding the ball too long and being too slow to make decisions. The shotgun allows quarterbacks to see the field better, which helps them anticipate blitzes and make quicker decisions.
Ramsey's situation has drawn comparisons to that of Chargers quarterback Drew Brees prior to last season. After San Diego used its top pick in the 2004 draft to take Philip Rivers, Brees had a Pro Bowl season. Ramsey is quick to note that he is in a more favorable situation: Unlike Brees, who kept his job because Rivers had a protracted holdout, the strong-armed quarterback from Ruston, La., has been told that he's the starter for the foreseeable future.
And he certainly is acting like it.