Quarterback Patrick Ramsey, wearing a gold jersey and burgundy shorts, dropped back to pass yesterday afternoon at Redskins Park. An estimated crowd of 2,760 at the opening of Coach Joe Gibbs's second training camp cheered each time Ramsey unleashed a spiral downfield during 11-on-11 drills.
But Ramsey, who alternated drills with veteran Mark Brunell and Bryson Spinner, rarely had an opportunity to display his arm strength as the Washington Redskins focused on the running game and intermediate passes in both sluggish practices.
Yesterday, Gibbs provided the first glimpses of an offense that was revamped after being ranked 30th in the 32-team NFL and sputtering on big plays.
After a 6-10 finish, the Redskins will field a more aggressive passing game that is tailor-made for Ramsey, whose development will be intertwined with Washington's success. But to flourish -- and keep his job from Brunell or rookie Jason Campbell -- Ramsey knows he must improve on his weakness: passing with touch.
"That's one thing I do feel like I've improved on," Ramsey said. "Things happen quickly and you react quickly. But there are situations on certain plays where you can kind of anticipate what kind of ball you can throw to get it there."
Said Gibbs: "Generally, particularly young quarterbacks pick up touch as they go. Patrick had a very good offseason. I thought he threw the ball very good and made improvement. He's very relaxed. He seems to have a real good command of everything."
Last season, Ramsey completed a career-high 62 percent of his passes and regained the starting job for Washington's final seven games. This season the Redskins want him to add more touch on intermediate and deeper passes.
"You have to throw it over people's heads rather than throwing it through them," said quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave. "When there's a small opening, you have to fit it in there with velocity, and he can do that. But sometimes there's going to be somebody between you and your receiver. And that's when you've got to put it up and over their heads with a little touch."
Over the past several months, Ramsey went to Redskins Park with a few receivers for sessions throwing strictly light passes. Ramsey said he tries to fight the urge to throw intermediate passes too hard when he sees an open receiver.
"I do it by repetition, really," Ramsey said, "by muscle memory."
Reserve wideout Darnerien McCants, who has been with the club since Ramsey was drafted in 2002, said yesterday he has noticed a difference in Ramsey's velocity this offseason.
"His ball isn't as ferocious as it used to be," McCants said. "It's more finesse. Before, it was like a ball coming out a shotgun. Now, it's a little more like a football pass. He allows you to catch. He's not just showing you his arm power."
Starting wide receiver Santana Moss, who was acquired in a trade for wideout Laveranues Coles, is only now becoming familiar with Ramsey. But Moss already considers Ramsey to have one of the strongest arms in the NFL. "He's in the category of Vinny Testaverde," Moss said. "They both have guns. You don't take long to catch it. With that in mind, you have to be prepared. I never complain about how fast they get there. You just have to adjust and make the best out of it."
"He looks good. I don't know how hard he was throwing [before] when it comes to short routes," Moss added. "But it seems like he's putting the ball there. I think he's doing a great job because you see a lot of running backs catching the ball. When you see the running backs catching the ball with ease, you know that he's putting some touch behind it."
Gibbs has made significant changes to the offense, the most conspicuous being the insertion of the shotgun formation, which he almost never used in 13 years as an NFL coach. The Redskins also altered their blocking schemes to better accommodate Clinton Portis, whose skills are more suited for open space. And Gibbs streamlined his playbook, including curtailing pre-snap movement. Still, the offense is unlikely to succeed without Ramsey's improvement.
As the starter entering training camp, Ramsey should have ample opportunity to work on his touch in practice. Unlike last year's camp, which featured a quarterback competition with Brunell, Ramsey will receive the overwhelming majority of the snaps.
After the trades of Rod Gardner and Coles, Ramsey finds himself with two new starting receivers -- the smallish David Patten and Moss -- in an effort to produce big passing plays. Last season, the Redskins mustered only four completions of 40 yards or longer. On the first day of practice, Ramsey said he has found his best rhythm with Chris Cooley, mainly because the H-back was on the team last season. But Cooley said that part of the reason is because he has gotten used to Ramsey's sharp passes.
"You run a five-yard route and you should just expect a bullet," Cooley said, laughing. "I can understand it. Guys get excited. You see someone open, you want to get the ball in there. He's definitely worked hard on that, because you can see it keeps getting better with time."