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Pat on the Back:Don Banks Postcard


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http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/football/2003/preview/news/2003/08/06/banks_redskins/

Pat on the back

Redskins have holes, but Ramsey isn't one of them

Posted: Wednesday August 06, 2003 7:35 PM

This is the sixth in a series of postcards SI.com's Don Banks will e-mail from his annual NFL training camp tour.

Wednesday, Aug. 6

Team: Washington Redskins

At the Redskins team complex in Ashburn, Va., in the same general neck of the woods as Dulles International Airport and that online giant known as AOL. And yes, things are working out just fine this time around with the Redskins' train-at-home approach. Three years ago, of course, Washington tried holding training camp at Redskins Park, and even charged fans $10 a head and $10 per parked car for the privilege of being there. But that bad idea was swiftly dropped and Washington trained at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., the past two years. Other than just about everybody missing the frozen custard place that was hard by the practice fields in Carlisle, folks in the organization seem more than content to stay home this summer.

1. I like the enthusiasm the defense seems to be building. Before 7-on-7 drills Wednesday, the defense (just linebacker and defensive backs in this case) huddled together near the line of scrimmage for what looked to be an impromptu group "bounce." Whatever works.

Something about the little pep rally seemed to click, though, because just a moment later, cornerback Champ Bailey picked off quarterback Patrick Ramsey and then withstood receiver Laveranues Coles' attempts to wrestle the ball away from him. Bailey emerged from the scrum to hold the ball aloft in victory, before spiking it forcefully as the fans erupted in cheers. As early August goes, it was good stuff.

2. This much the Redskins already know: Top draft pick Taylor Jacobs is a going to give them a fine No. 3 receiver behind Coles and Rod Gardner. Tight end Robert Royal, a fifth-rounder in 2002, figures to bump the wonderfully named Zeron Flemister out of the starting job at some point this season. And new strong safety Matt Bowen likes to hit anything that moves in practice. Last week, Bowen incurred Spurrier's ire for decking running back Trung Canidate with a shoulder shiver. Then on Tuesday, Bowen scared everyone by accidentally kicking Coles in the head and almost knocking him out. Coles escaped serious injury and held onto the ball. Gotta keep your eye on No. 41, Redskins offense.

3. There's a lot to like about this improved team, but if I was a Redskins rooter, I'd still be worried about three-fourths of the defensive line. With no Daryl Gardener and Dan Wilkinson at the tackles, clogging the running lanes might be Washington's biggest concern. At this point, the Redskins must count on Brandon Noble and Jermaine Haley to handle that important duty. And there's not much left out there in the way of available veteran free-agent talent at defensive tackle.

I'm not saying it would have been wise to overpay Wilkinson, who was cut last week when he wouldn't take a justified salary reduction. But the key question is: Who are you going to get at this point who's any better than Big Daddy?

Another concern is defensive end, where Regan Upshaw is being counted on to supply a pass rush opposite future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith. Looks like Washington's weak link on defense is up front.

4. Training camp diaries usually make for dry, cliché-ridden reading, but Redskins offensive tackle Jon Jansen went for the punch line in his Wednesday camp diary in the Washington Times. Jansen calls Patrick Ramsey his best friend on the team, and notes that the two spend time together hunting and fishing.

"For me personally, not that I've ever blocked hard because I didn't like the quarterback, but I've got added incentive because I'm going to be in the woods with Patrick and he's going to have a rifle," Jansen wrote. "I don't want him to get an itchy trigger finger because I let Michael Strahan go through and pop him in the bean."

You think Jansen gets nervous when Ramsey drops into the shotgun formation?

5. Speaking of Ramsey, it's hard to not be impressed by his big-league arm, even if you're watching him work the day after catching Baltimore rookie Kyle Boller, who has a little zip on his fastball as well. With his arm strength, Ramsey can thread the needle and throw the ball into openings that some passers won't even think about.

Late in Wednesday's workout, Ramsey hit running back Chad Morton deep down the right sideline, even though Morton had no more than a crevice beyond outside linebacker Kevin Mitchell. After a few inconsistent days in the first week of camp, Ramsey has steadied himself and put together some strong performances. He's seeing more of the field than he ever did last season and starting to show signs of truly grasping Spurrier's complicated passing game.

6. When I squinted, I could almost convince myself that Washington's new defensive coordinator -- now there's an oft-used phrase -- George Edwards was a carbon copy of Marvin Lewis, his predecessor. Edwards coaches with the same hands-on style and intensity favored by Lewis, whom he worked under last year as the linebackers coach and assistant defensive coordinator.

"Make the play out there," Edwards yelled at one point Wednesday, after his unit had given up a sideline completion to Taylor Jacobs. "It's third down. Finish it. Finish it and get off the field."

The defenders that I talked to say they love Edwards and love playing for him. He's the Redskins' fifth defensive coordinator in five years, but I think this is one D.C. who has a good chance to hang around D.C. for a while.

Ladairis Jackson. The Redskins are desperate to create a pass rush this season, and Jackson could be one of the unexpected sources from which it comes. The 6-feet-2, 260-pound defensive end showed flashes last season as an edge rusher and there's hope he could emerge as an impact player in the team's third-down packages, similar to the role N.D. Kalu filled for the Redskins before he returned to Philadelphia in 2001.

Jackson had four sacks last year in Washington's American Bowl game against San Francisco at Osaka, Japan, and he posted 2 1/2 sacks, four pressures and one tackle for loss in limited regular-season action. Jackson, a pure speed rusher, is coming off a ruptured patella tendon in his left knee, which he suffered in Week 16 last season. Just 24, Jackson got his NFL start when he was invited to Seattle's camp in 2001 as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State.

Call it the Visor Quotient. How many times did Spurrier throw his visor in frustration last season? There were no official statistics kept, but I'm willing to bet he wanted to Frisbee that baby at least 40 times -- or once each for every Redskins turnover. Only two teams -- Minnesota and St. Louis -- gave the ball away more than Washington, which evenly split its turnovers, throwing 20 interceptions and losing 20 fumbles. Only three teams had a turnover ratio worse than the Redskins' minus-14, the above mentioned Vikings and Rams, as well as the Bengals. That's not the neighborhood Mr. Spurrier wants to be in.

You like to see some new faces every offseason? The Redskins are the team for you. There are only two, repeat, two players left on Washington's roster from the 1999 team, which happens to be the most recent Redskins playoff qualifier. With Darrell Green finally retired, Bailey and offensive tackle Jon Jansen -- who were Washington's first and second-round picks in '99 -- have the most continuous service on the club. Seventy-one of the players on Washington's 90-man training camp roster joined in the team in 2002 or 2003. Even in this era of free agency and perennial player movement, that's astounding.

I know it was a move designed to give them another veteran option at the backup quarterback position, and thus was directed at Rob Johnson rather than Patrick Ramsey, but when the Redskins re-signed Danny Wuerffel the other day, you couldn't help but wonder if Spurrier really will have the patience to stay off the quarterback carousel this season.

Ramsey's the guy and everybody in Redskins camp knows it. He needs to play this year without looking over his shoulder, if for nothing else than the sake of the 2004 season. But Spurrier has never hesitated to remove a faltering quarterback, and Ramsey, being just a second-year guy, figures to struggle at some point this season. Last year, Spurrier's starting rotation went from Shane Matthews to Wuerffel, to Ramsey, to Matthews, to Wuerffel, to Ramsey.

Nobody's anticipating a repeat of 2002. But I have to believe that with Wueffel around, in part to continue mentoring Ramsey, the odds are Spurrier will be more rather than less tempted to yank Ramsey at some point. Especially since Wuerffel has years of experience in his Fun 'n' Gun offense. That would be the short-sighted move, of course, but when you look at Spurrier's track record, you can't rule it out.

C'mon Steve, you can do it. Stick with one guy and prove us skeptics wrong. You know you want to.

Which leads us back to the question of Johnson's status as the team's backup. In the first week or so of camp, Johnson looked less than impressive, and was said to be merely going through the motions. And they weren't even the motions that Spurrier wanted him to go through. The Redskins have asked Johnson to work on his throwing mechanics, coming less sidearm and ****ing the ball up near his earhole, like Spurrier has always taught.

But presto, whammo, Johnson has looked worlds better the past three or four days, or about the time Wuerffel arrived to compete for the No. 2 job. Johnson has been firing strikes all over the field and appears increasingly comfortable with his overhand delivery. Of particular note in Wednesday's practice was a pretty 60-yard scoring bomb to receiver Cliff Russell , who he hit perfectly in stride down the right sideline.

It's amazing what a little competition can do for a guy, even a nine-year NFL veteran like Johnson.

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