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Roanoke Times:Johnson Still Seeking A Fresh Start


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Saturday, August 16, 2003

New Redskins quarterback has 29 career starts in eight seasons

Johnson still seeking a fresh start[/b]

Rob Johnson, who has spent most of his career as a backup, is battling Danny Wuerffel for the No.2 job with the Redskins.


Rob Johnson's predicament is easy to understand.

For much of his first eight seasons in the NFL, he was embroiled in spirited competition to become his team's starting quarterback. Sure, the odds were long in Jacksonville, where he backed up Mark Brunell for three seasons. In stints with the Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Johnson earned 29 starts - emphasis on the word "earned."

He started twice for the Super Bowl champion Bucs in 2002 and won both times.

So when Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier called during the offseason - and called and called and called, as it turned out - to say the franchise wanted him to back up Patrick Ramsey, Johnson was in for a bigger adjustment than he anticipated.

"It was really, really tough," Johnson admitted. "I didn't accept it at first. In my mind, I was like, 'I'll show them what I can do. It'll be different.' But that wasn't the case, and I kind of got complacent."

Spurrier's four or five phone calls endeared him to Johnson, who took it as a sign of respect that the head coach would be so persistent. Johnson, a college star at Southern California, also knew and liked Redskins offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, a former Trojans assistant. He was intrigued at the prospect of learning a different offense from the West Coast style to which he'd become accustomed.

"I love to compete and, without it, I guess I came to camp passive," Johnson said. "No offense to anyone, but I was told I couldn't beat out Patrick, and I had two rookies behind me who couldn't beat me out. It wasn't as much fun as I'd like."

That all changed with the arrival of Danny Wuerffel and Spurrier's announcement that Wuerffel and Johnson would vie to be the No.2 quarterback. Johnson used a classic line to dispel the notion that he would be irked by Wuerffel's presence.

"Competition's good; even Seabiscuit needed War Admiral," he joked. "Ever since they brought Danny to camp, I've been feeding off him."

Johnson flew out of the gate Saturday against Carolina, although the Redskins lost 20-0. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 107 yards and had a 7-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Johnson nullified by penalty. Besieged by a constant rush, Johnson ran for 13 yards and frequently moved out of the pocket in a game attempt to run the offense.

He also fumbled twice when sacked, although replays showed one of them probably should have been ruled an incomplete pass.

"I told [Ramsey], 'If you'd have been in there instead of Rob, it probably would have gotten pretty ugly,'" quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise said. "Rob's mobility is a real plus."

The second leg of his competition with Wuerffel is set for tonight, when Washington plays host to New England.

"Rob's done a heck of a lot better," Brindise conceded. "He's a lot more comfortable running the offense. He made a lot of good plays [against Carolina] but also too many mistakes. He'll be fine. He's still learning."

The Redskins aren't just teaching Johnson a new scheme, one that requires the quarterback to wait a bit longer for receivers to get open than the quick-toss West Coast style. Spurrier disliked Johnson's sidearm throwing motion. Although it's the same one Johnson has used to complete 61.5 percent of his passes for his career, Spurrier's staff has worked with him on the traditional over-the-top motion.

"It's tough, but I want to learn how he wants me to do it," Johnson said.

"He takes coaching so well," Brindise added. "For a guy to be in the league for eight or nine years and still embrace coaching ... I really appreciate that."

Most backups solemnly spout the old cliche about being just one play from entering the game. Johnson, the son of a coach, jokes about it.

"Every time I've been the backup," he said, chuckling, "the starting quarterback had a career year."

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Couple of things stand out about this.

First, the guy seems honest enough. Everyone was reporting he looked lax and wasn't playing well before Wuerffel. Then Wuerffel comes and everyone has generally said he's really picked it up. He says here he kind of got complacent. That's a pretty honest assessment if not exactly what you'd like to hear :).

Also, I like the every time he's been a backup the starter has had a career year. May Rob back Ramsey up forever :).

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