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Redskins hope Ramsey can master head game


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Redskins hope Ramsey can master head game Aug. 27, 2003

By Pete Prisco

SportsLine.com Senior Writer

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Insider | Notes

ASHBURN, Va. -- It's talked about with reverence, as if it's a person, not an extremity. That Arm gets nothing but high praise, which is understandable since it can throw a football 50 yards on a tight line with a flick of the wrist.

Washington Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey has always had that big arm, but now that he is a starting quarterback in the NFL, it's getting even more attention.

"He throws it harder than any quarterback except maybe Brett Favre," said Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey.

Patrick Ramsey says the Redskins' offense will be second nature to him by the end of the season. (AP)

"It comes in there hot and fast," said Redskins receiver Laveranues Coles.

That's all well and good, but pretty doesn't win games. It's accuracy and the ability to grow as a pocket passer that turn the strong-armed Ryan Leafs of the world into Pro Bowl players.

Can Ramsey do that? If he can, he could be a 10-year starter and the answer to the Redskins' passing game for years to come. If he can't, the Steve Spurrier era is about to be in big, big trouble.

In Spurrier's system, a big arm isn't nearly as important as a smart head. It's a timing offense, which means finding the open receiver at the right time with the right throw. Firing lasers isn't exactly necessary, although it isn't discouraged, either.

Ramsey's growth will be what ultimately determines how good the Redskins can be, even after all the millions owner Dan Snyder spent to retool the roster. Ramsey is now solidly in as the starter in his second year, but Snyder has downplayed any talk of the season being on his back.

"I don't think our season hinges on him," Snyder said last March. "I think it's about the team, and he's a big part of the team."

Ramsey has played to mixed reviews so far in the preseason.

He had decent numbers last week in Washington's 24-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, completing 8 of 13 passes for 100 yards and leading the Redskins to their first scoring drive of the preseason in the second quarter. The touchdown was a 39-yard pass to Coles off a flea-flicker, so the score and those numbers are a tad deceiving.

Up until that game, Ramsey struggled. It didn't help when he injured the thumb on his right (throwing) hand in the second exhibition game. He had to shake left-handed when greeted for this story.

"I have to remember to do that," he said.

Somehow he played three days later, which is a good sign for the Redskins, that he has the toughness needed to play.

Getting Coles for a first-round pick and paying him a huge contract, including a $13 million signing bonus, won't mean squat if Ramsey can't convince Spurrier that he doesn't warrant a temper tantrum every 10 minutes on game day. That's why picking up the nuances of the position have to go along with his big arm.

"People have always pointed to my arm strength," said Ramsey. "There have been times in the past where I have allowed it to get me in trouble. I don't think that's the case in this system. It's timing based. It's good to have the arm, but it's not what will make me a success in this offense."

So what will?

"The ability to run the offense the way coach Spurrier wants it run," said Ramsey.

That means with precision. Spurrier is as demanding on his quarterbacks as any coach. At Florida, the stories are legendary about how he would grate on his passers, often to the point where they came to hate him.

Shane Matthews, who was a Spurrier backer at Florida, turned the other way after a year playing for him in Washington last season. The coach beat him down, which Matthews said included a poor handling of his benching early last season.

Ramsey, though, said he is ready for the Spurrier heat.

"Coach has high expectations, but not unattainable expectations," said Ramsey. "You just have to take each play in stride. The primary thing he wants is to get better and improve every day. And that's my primary goal, too. A lot of pressure is put on the quarterback in this system, but that's OK because I put a lot of pressure on myself."

The Redskins took Ramsey with a first-round pick in 2002 with the idea he would be their quarterback of the future. That future became now early last season when he came off the bench for an injured Danny Wuerffel, throwing for 268 yards and two touchdowns as the Redskins upset the Tennessee Titans 31-24.

"I really got lucky that day," said Ramsey. "Coach called an excellent game. I was able to find the guys who were open. He did a great job of getting them open. In the coming weeks after that, I didn't really know as much of the offense as I needed to know. And that started to show up."

After that game, Spurrier named Ramsey the starter. In the next two games, he threw four interceptions and fumbled seven times and was benched. It was a move Ramsey couldn't argue with.

"I had a lot to learn," he said.

So he spent his time watching and observing what the other quarterbacks did right and wrong. He played out situations in his head, planning how he would handle them the next time he was in the game.

Later in the season, when Wuerffel went down, Ramsey was back in as the starter. He finished the season 117-of-227 for 1,539 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.

More important, he learned all about the offense in game situations, something he said has carried over to this season.

"I think the difference between last year and this year is amazing to me," said Ramsey. "Is it second nature? I don't say it's automatic, since it's something I have to consciously think about. But I think it will become second nature to me by the end of the season."

By acquiring Coles and drafting Taylor Jacobs in the second round, the Redskins have made it so Rod Gardner isn't the only weapon at Ramsey's disposal. Coles' ability to get deep will help open up the passing game, something the offense did not have last year.

The line, which was abysmal inside last season, will also be better after the signing of guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore. Redskins quarterbacks spent a lot of time last year trying to throw with players at their feet, courtesy of inside pressure.

Coles came from the Jets, where he developed a good relationship with Chad Pennington. That same type of relationship is growing between Coles and Ramsey now. But Coles is quick to warn that it takes time.

"Every day it's a process," Coles said. "It's not something you jump into and it's just going to happen. It comes with me, him and coaches learning to trust each other and then getting on the field and making the right decisions together. That's what happened with Chad and me. They had us reined in, but they took the reins off when they saw how it could benefit the team. That will happen with Patrick and me as we learn to trust each other."

Getting used to catching a hot ball has taken some time, too. Coles said he had to adjust a little to Ramsey, who has a much stronger arm than Pennington.

"He throws a different ball," said Coles. "They're two different types of quarterbacks. It comes in a lot harder. You kind of turn your head a little bit because it is coming in so hard. That arm can really throw it."

But the key for the Redskins will be how that head learns to throw it. If Ramsey doesn't progress, all the millions Snyder spent will go to waste, no matter how the Redskins try to convince themselves that their season doesn't rest on their young quarterback.

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