He returned to the nation's capital on a stormy Sunday in early August, bearing the hopes of a desperate coach and the scorn of a wary fan base. During his turn as the Redskins' starting quarterback last year Danny Wuerffel proved two things: 1) He knew coach Steve Spurrier's offense almost as well as the Ol' Ball Coach himself, and 2) he wasn't talented enough to run it effectively in the NFL. That's why they let him go as a free agent. Nevertheless, after a series of preseason gaffes by free-agent pickup Rob Johnson, the backup to No. 1 passer Patrick Ramsey, Spurrier re-signed Wuerffel—the quarterback with whom he won the 1996 national championship at Florida.
In 2002 Spurrier's first NFL season, the Fun 'n' Gun offense flopped not only because of poor execution at quarterback and slow, bulky personnel suited for the power-rushing attack used previously, but also because Spurrier switched passers as often as Geraldo changes wives. Into that farce stepped Ramsey, a rookie whose sterling relief performance in a 31-14 win at Tennessee in Week 5 suddenly earned him a starting shot. He lasted two weeks (losing both games) before being yanked for Shane Matthews, only to return to the lineup for the final three games (winning the last two). Despite the reappearance of Wuerffel, offensive coaches insist that Washington's quarterback-carousel days are over, that Ramsey will have a much longer leash this time around. "Patrick's the guy, and it's not open for debate," quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise says. "He's had 90 percent of the reps in practice. He's looked good throughout. Since we throw downfield more than most teams, we need him to be ready. We like our chances, especially with all of our new weapons."
Many of them came courtesy of owner Daniel Snyder's annual spending spree. After releasing power back Stephen Davis, the Redskins lured ascendant wideout Laveranues Coles and return man-tailback Chad Morton from the Jets, added another free-agent scatback in Trung Canidate and got one of Spurrier's former Gators, speedy receiver Taylor Jacobs, with their first pick in the draft (No. 44).
Now it's up to Ramsey to make it all work. Though he had his moments last year, Ramsey was uncomfortable at the line—he played in a shotgun offense at Tulane—and had poor footwork. Redskins coaches ran Ramsey through dozens of drills in the off-season, focusing on his footwork, his ability to read defenses quickly and his options once he's flushed out of the pocket. Brindise knew the lessons had taken hold when Ramsey would "watch last year's game film and say, 'Oh, there's that drill.' He applies the stuff like it's second nature."
"With a year under my belt, I'm much more comfortable now," Ramsey says. "I know I'm the starter, that Coach Spurrier and my teammates have confidence in me." To prove his point, Ramsey brings up the signing of Coles, a restricted free agent to whom the Redskins gave a stunning seven-year, $35 million contract. "It's almost like getting Laveranues was [the team's] way of giving me a weapon. Why sign him if they don't think I can use him?"
The addition of free-agent right guard Randy Thomas, another former Jet, improves the line, but Canidate's durability is questionable, and the absence of Davis might make it difficult for the Redskins to sustain drives and take some of the pressure off the passing game. Ramsey will have to rely on possession receiver Rod Gardner and tight end Robert Royal to help move the chains.
The Washington defense, which ranked fifth in the NFL last year but lost coordinator Marvin Lewis, is dangerously thin along the front four following the release of tackle Dan Wilkinson in a salary purge on July 29. Still, with linebacker LaVar Arrington and shutdown cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot, the defense has playmakers aplenty.
It all comes down to whether the offense, namely Ramsey, can get off the mark and build up a head of steam before Spurrier gets itchy again.
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