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Question Marks About Questioning Mark

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Old 07-21-2006, 09:06 AM   #1
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Question Marks About Questioning Mark

Question Marks About Questioning Mark
As the next NFL season sits, teasing us all, roughly seven weeks into the horizon, it is that time of year when the predictions start popping up like arrest warrants for the “character-first” Cincinnati Bengals. Anyone that has an outlet, acknowledging and discarding any and all irony currently at hand, is offering their opinion, each certain that his (or hers) is the correct one. Unlike in past seasons, the Washington Redskins are finally getting some of the credit in the national media, and also unlike in past seasons, they’ve earned it. But to a person, all of those who would count themselves among the doubters of the Burgundy and Gold list quarterback play as the reason for their skepticism.

Perhaps it is the only vulnerable spot on the roster than can be reasonably questioned. With the complete overhaul of the receiver position, the addition of a true pass rusher as well as a second sledgehammer safety, and the further enhancement of the coaching staff with the additions of Al Saunders and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, quarterback may be the only spot of any significance on which naysayers may find a toe hold. And, truth be told, they’re not entirely incorrect. The roster is more solid, on paper at least, than it has been in nearly a decade, making for precious few angles upon which doubters may base their case.

If his past two seasons have shown Redskins fans anything about Mark Brunell, it’s that he is a vastly different quarterback when he’s healthy compared to when he’s less than at his physical peak. A healthy Brunell is still capable of making plays with his legs (as the Cowboys will tell you), and with his arm (as Roy Williams will tell you). However, when Brunell suffers one of the nagging injuries that are common to most NFL players his age, he resembles the Brunell of 2004, who seemed determined to make Garo Yepremian feel better about his passing acumen.

Even despite being slowed by injuries late in the season, Mark Brunell experienced a career resurgence in 2005. He lead the Redskins into the playoffs and past Tampa Bay in the first round, and his 23 regular season touchdown passes were a career high. All of this was done, of course, despite the obvious of having his only receiver of any worth often blanketed by double and triple teams. Although it would have come in an admittedly down year for NFC quarterbacks, Brunell really should have been elected to the Pro Bowl over the incomprehensibly overrated Michael Vick. Brunell had a better season by most any objective measure, be it team or personal, but the Michael Vick Myth proved too widely believed to be toppled by mere success and reason alone.

Despite his strong showing in 2005, anyone who tells you that quarterback isn’t at least a mild concern for the 2006 Washington Redskins is kidding themselves. Brunell’s fragility, and his proven track record of precipitous declines once injured, should be enough to make even the most near-sighted Redskins homer raise concerns. The odds of a healthy Brunell’s play causing the Redskins to fail to reach their lofty potential are doubtful, but the chances that he will sprain a knee and his play will start to suffer are quite a bit greater.

A common misconception, however, is that the Redskins need a phenomenal performance out of Brunell each week to win. Not only is this not the case for the upcoming season when the talent around him is plentiful for a change, but it wasn’t even true in his previous two seasons, when the likes of Jimmy Farris and Robert Royal were in his huddle. Consider that since becoming a Redskin, Brunell has passed for over 300 yards on three different occasions, in Week 3 of 2004 against the Cowboys, and in consecutive weeks this past season against the Broncos and Chiefs. A universal theme among those three games, other than Brunell’s strong performance, is that the Redskins dropped all three. All Brunell needs to do this season, especially in light of the electric talent that now surrounds him, is manage the offense, which is still well within his range of abilities.

If one were going to question Brunell on the basis of his age, which is reasonable and is done frequently, why then would Dallas statue Drew Bledsoe not receive the same treatment, given less than a year and a half separates the two? If the questions arise from the likelihood that Brunell will be injured, again a rational and habitually posed concern, then shouldn’t that discussion begin and end with Steve McNair? Obviously, Brunell is not the player he was in the late 1990’s, but his decline is normal for NFL players, and is certainly no more pronounced than that of Kurt Warner, who is the starting quarterback (for now) of the 2006 disappointment-to-be Arizona Cardinals.

Unlike the other quarterbacks in his peer group mentioned above, Brunell also has the benefit of playing in an Al Saunders offense this upcoming season. Saunders took a good quarterback in Trent Green, and made him into a two-time Pro Bowl selection and the head of the top offense in football over the past five seasons. Considering that track record, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that Brunell turns in a season in 2006 that is at the very least efficient. Now, will Brunell get that Pro Bowl invite that was denied him in 2005? Most likely not, given that Donovan McNabb has returned to health and that the Michael Vick fable still going strong. But if he executes Saunders’ proven system adequately, the Redskins high hopes in 2006 stand a good chance of being fulfilled.

As the season inches slowly closer to reality, keep checking back in for you Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!

Questions and Comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at skins.fan@comcast.net

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