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Brunell Enjoying Fresh Start

By Jeff Nations

The Winchester Star


ASHBURN — Mark Brunell thought he’d be a Jacksonville Jaguar for life.

Virtually the face of the franchise from the moment the team took the field for the first time in 1995, Brunell quickly became a fan favorite with his outstanding play at quarterback.

Yet there he was on the first day of training camp, wearing the burgundy and gold of the Washington Redskins, and already embroiled in a classic D.C. quarterback controversy.

Brought in by new coach Joe Gibbs, Brunell arrived via trade during the offseason as the first big free-agent signing of the new regime.


Former Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell was acquired in the offseason to help steady the Redskins’ attack.

(Photo by Rick Foster)

Instantly named a starter by most observers despite Gibbs’ steadfast contention that incumbent Patrick Ramsey would have an equal shot at the job, the pressure to perform started the moment Brunell joined his new team.

But if Brunell has felt the heat to lead Washington back to the glory days, he’s not letting on one bit.

“I’m having a good time,” Brunell said. “It’s good to be back in there. I’m having a blast competing again and trying to move the team.”

Gibbs made it official after Washington’s fourth preseason game — Brunell is the man who’ll start under center for the Redskins when they open the 2004 campaign on Sept. 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field.

While he didn’t perform spectacularly during those games, Brunell displayed just what the Redskins were looking for when they inked the 11-year veteran to a seven-year, $43 million deal that included an $8 million signing bonus.

As Ramsey pressed during his two preseason starts and in relief appearances (15 of 37 passing for 196 yards), Brunell proved to be a solid if unspectacular alternative (22 of 40 for 244 yards).

“Preseason’s very difficult to gauge on anything,” Brunell said after Washington’s 23-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Aug. 14. “You’re going against the first guys, then just a quarter later you’re going against the third-team guys. It’s really hard to measure. You don’t know until that season begins, when you really find out how good of a team you are.

“That’s good and bad. You can have all the numbers in the world and still not be a good offensive team. At the same time, you can struggle and not have all the big stats but still be all right.”

Gibbs can only hope Brunell’s level-headed assessment of the offense so far translates into victories on the field. But then, Gibbs has always favored a veteran quarterback. In all three of the Gibbs-era Super Bowl championships, experienced quarterbacks — Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien — were directing the offense.

And Brunell certainly has a successful track record. A fifth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 1993 NFL Draft, the left-handed quarterback found a home two years later with the expansion Jaguars.

Brunell won the starting assignment in Jacksonville, and amazingly led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game just one year later. In that magical season, Brunell completed 353 passes for 4,367 yards and 19 touchdowns and earned Pro Bowl player of the game honors after leading the AFC to a come-from-behind victory.

Six more solid seasons followed, but the Jaguars could never match the success of 1996. When Brunell went down with a season-ending elbow injury last year just three games into the season, rookie Byron Leftwich emerged as the future of the franchise and made Brunell — No. 11-ranked passer in NFL history — expendable.

The Redskins pounced on the opportunity to sign Brunell, and Gibbs personally spearheaded the recruiting effort.

“It’s a privilege,” is how Brunell describes playing for Washington’s Hall of Fame coach.

With the starting job his at least for now, Brunell is ready to put the quarterback controversy stuff to rest.

“That just isn’t a concern,” Brunell said. “Coaches will make those decisions. We don’t control that. The focus right now is getting our offense on track, getting everybody together, moving the ball, being efficient, and score some points.

“...We’ll get it worked out.”


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