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Redskins' Ramsey faces fourth and long

August 15, 2005 1:06 am

P RESIDENT OF IRAQ and publicist for Rafael Palmeiro might be the only jobs that are more shaky at the moment than Patrick Ramsey's.

When Joe Gibbs anointed Ramsey as the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback last spring, the vote of confidence wasn't exactly overwhelming. Keeping last year's starter (Mark Brunell) on the roster and trading three draft picks to choose the heir apparent (Jason Campbell) clearly showed that Gibbs was hedging his bets.

To this point--and remember, it's still very early--Gibbs seems to be right (for one of the few times since his return).

Through two weeks of training camp and one preseason game, Ramsey hasn't looked like an NFL starter. His numbers in Saturday night's exhibition opener at Carolina (8-for-12, 77 yards, one interception) weren't bad--especially against one of the league's top defenses.

Yet the Redskins didn't score while he was on the field. Brunell led them to all 10 of their points and looked sharper (albeit against backups), and Campbell had his moments in garbage time.

In Gibbs' first tenure as the Redskins' coach, the preseason meant virtually nothing. He used about 5 percent of his playbook and simply wanted to see his veterans execute the basics. The word "vanilla" was used as often as "humid" in exhibition game stories.

Times have changed, and there's pressure on Gibbs after his inoffensive 6-10 first season back. He used three-receiver sets often Saturday night--a departure both from previous Augusts and last season.

The one constant is that Gibbs still wants to see production. And if Ramsey can't show he deserves the starting job, the competition may open up again.

It's clear that Gibbs still likes Brunell; the coach overpaid for him last year and stubbornly kept him in long after it became obvious that the veteran didn't have it.

The Redskins could have swallowed a huge salary-cap hit by cutting Brunell in the off-season, but the fact that the brought him back means (a) they couldn't afford to and (b) Gibbs think his tank isn't totally empty.

And Gibbs obviously likes Campbell; the price he paid to move up in the draft (including next year's No. 1) is testament to that.

Brunell seems sharper and healthier this year, and Campbell looks like he has the tools to become a fine NFL quarterback in time. That means Ramsey is on the clock. It's deliver now--even in the suddenly meaningful preseason--or face being benched or traded.

Neither option seems desirable (although the Chicago Bears, who nearly traded for Ramsey before he even signed with Washington, are in need of a starter now that Rex Grossman's ankle is broken).

Even with a retooled running game and a bulked-up Clinton Portis, the Redskins need production from Ramsey to improve their pathetic offense of a year ago.

They jettisoned starting receivers Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner (who caught a touchdown pass against them Saturday) in favor of David Patten and Santana Moss--small, quick guys who theoretically can stretch the field and prevent defenses from stacking the line against the run.

The only catch is that someone has to get them the ball. Brunell's arm isn't what it used to be. Campbell's arm strength is above-average, but asking him to be the next Ben Roethlisberger is a bit much.

So it falls on Ramsey--if he's up to it.

Remember, Gibbs didn't draft Ramsey, as he did Campbell. He didn't trade for him, as he did Brunell. Ramsey seemed to give the Redskins their best chance to win now. And that's what the NFL is all about.

It's still four weeks until the games start counting. But for Ramsey, the clock is already ticking.

To reach STEVE D eSHAZO: 540/374-5443

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