On the Warpath with Ramsey

The play causes Patrick Ramsey to suddenly hop from his chair and point to the board in this darkened room at Redskins Park. His voice rises just a little. ''You want to know where my game has changed,'' says the Redskins quarterback, ''it's right here.''

Then the play unfolds on tape: a Houston defender charges at him from the left side unblocked; a surprised Ramsey hurries a pass, avoiding the sack; the Redskins move on.

And that was it. Except that it told Ramsey just how far he had come since starting earlier in the season. It's also one reason he can't wait for this season.

On the play last December, Ramsey knew every Texan defender should have been blocked. Which is why he was surprised when someone wasn't. It's nothing grand to a casual observer; it's everything to Ramsey. Early in the year, he didn't know who would be blocked. He had too many other things on his mind. Like survival.

''You saw me against New Orleans,'' he says, ''I'd take five steps and get pummelled and I didn't know what I was doing or who to look for. I'd just drop back and look for a guy to throw to. There's so much more to it than I ever imagined. I can't say that I've improved as much as I've learned. My ability has stayed the same, but my knowledge . . . there's no comparison.''

And therein lies the hope for Ramsey, who will enter training camp as the Redskins' starting quarterback in only his second season. Last year's first-round pick started five games last year, throwing nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, but completing just 51.8 percent of his passes.

Washington has done all it can to surround him with better talent, strengthening the line with two new starting guards; boosting the receiving corps with restricted free agent signee Laveranues Coles and second-round draft pick Taylor Jacobs, among others.

But, in the end, much of the Redskins' success hinges on Ramsey's development. If he flops, the offense will suffer. So, too, will Washington. If he flourishes, which the Redskins are betting on, then the team might return to the playoffs for only the second time since 1992.

In the tale of the tape on this late April day, Ramsey points to areas of his game that improved dramatically from his first start (the Saints) to his last (Dallas). The difference, in his mind as well as just about everyone else in the organization, is dramatic. That Ramsey understands what he had to improve on, and why, makes them sleep better, too.

Ramsey already has the powerful arm and is tough, evidenced by his willingness to stand in the pocket and deliver a pass at the last second. Redskins coach Steve Spurrier calls him courageous, an important characteristic to the former quarterback. If the mental game clicks, then Ramsey's game could soar. And the Redskins would come along for the ride.

The mental game is full of subtleties: reading defenses, head position, comfort level, ball fakes. Ramsey understands that and can see his mistakes on tape. He also knows why certain plays worked. And why they failed.

He knows, too, that he wants to desperately succeed. It's why he started reading books on leadership this offseason, including one on Vince Lombardi: The better to run a huddle and direct teammates. It's why he plans on chatting with Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, a pocket passer like Ramsey, at some point this summer, asking him what he looks at while reading coverages and what his mental checklist is as he walks to the line of scrimmage. He worked out for a week in Phoenix this past winer, focusing on speedwork.

And it's why he had all the tapes of his first season sent to him at his house in Louisiana at the end of January.

He's watched those tapes almost every day the past few months#=and especially in the past month#=digging for new clues each time. Just a week or so ago he watched a tape of the Carolina preseason game. The first time he watches a tape, he'll look at coverages. The next time he'll mentally put himself back under center, asking what he'd do differently.

''He's a smart kid and he knows the game,'' Redskins assistant quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise says, ''but when you see him correcting himself on tape, that makes you feel like he's really starting to get a feel for the game. It's one thing to sit there and call plays and know them. It's another thing to understand why we do what we do.

''Now we can go back and watch a game tape from last year and he can tell me what he did wrong rather than me tell him. As a coach you get excited about that because you know he grasps what you're trying to tell him. It's all coming together for him. I've seen the light come on for him. He's more prepared for what's about to happen.''

That means pressure. At least from the outside. It's hard to imagine anyone placing more pressure on Ramey than he already places on himself.

''I set goals and that's what I do, no matter what it is,'' he says. ''I'm very anxious for the season. But I'm very anxious to do well. I want to establish myself early [in training camp] so people don't have to say, 'Well, he'll do well in the preseason.' I want them to say, 'He's doing really well now.' ''

So he watches film and dissects his play. The Houston game provided a measuring stick of his development, giving him a chance to see just how far he had come in a short period. And it shows him what he must do next season.

Take a third and 10 from the Redskins' 19-yard line on their opening series. Ramsey now sees what he couldn't spot then: the Houston defender is lined up to the inside of receiver Rod Gardner, who is lined up to the outside of fellow wideout Derrius Thompson. Gardner is supposed to run a 10-yard inside hitch route. That's not good. But Ramsey didn't change the play. The result: Ramsey rushes the pass and overthrows a covered Gardner.

''The best thing for me to do,'' Ramsey says, ''is call a route that goes to the outside. He could easily have gotten leverage on that guy. It's hard to see that during a game, but it's something I need to look for next time I've got that play called.''

It's the difference between being a decent quarterback and a good one. Or better. And it's what Spurrier needs. Spurrier would call the plays last year and Ramsey would run them. Now Spurrier needs Ramsey to do more, like check off to better plays. Thus far, after a minicamp and 13 coaching sessions, his teammates see that he can do that, at least during the spring time. But that's more than he could do most of last fall.

''Patrick is more confident,'' Gardner says. ''He's making reads that last year he couldn't make. Spurrier was helping him so much and he depended on Spurrier for that communication. Now Patrick goes to the line and he's confident with what he calls and he goes with it. Patrick is hard on himself, but that's good because it makes him better.''

Another play shows a typical side of Ramsey: a successful play but one in which he finds areas to improve. That's not unusual. In his first action of the season, a 31-14 win at Tennessee, Ramsey threw two touchdown passes. On one, Ramsey later complained that he underthrew Gardner and on the other, he felt he threw behind a wide-open Kevin Lockett. Ramsey celebrated both plays, but, when he watched the tape, he noticed the imperfections. Which is what happened against Houston. The Redskins noticed Houston biting on the flat route so they called for a wheel route in which Thompson first runs a route to the flat and as Ramsey pump fakes a throw, he turns upfield and hauls in a 28-yard pass.

Here's what Ramsey also sees: a bad draw fake. He barely feigned a handoff to running back Ladell Betts.

''I have to make it more believable,'' he says. ''See how I just stick my head in there. That's not believable. Watch the linebackers. They kind of pay attention and then boom, they're gone. I have to get them to step up. Other than that, I'm happy.''

The Texans' linebacker, Jamie Sharper, falls for a similar fake on the ensuing play, resulting in a touchdown pass to fullback Rock Cartwright. Later in the game, Ramsey is excited because he made a better fake.

Then there's his head position, which greatly changed for the better.

''Before I was telegraphing where I would throw the ball,'' Ramsey says. ''I'm so much more confident in what's going to happen after the ball is snapped. I had a clue what would happen before, but I wasn't real confident in what was going to happen after the ball is snapped.

''I'm trying to keep the defense from seeing where I'm going with the ball and I'm trying to see what defense it is they're playing. If I look at my receivers, I can't find out what defense they're playing. Early in the year I'd just look at my receiver right away and hope he would be open.''

Ramsey also figured out quickly last summer that he must have a plan as he approaches the line of scrimmage. That shouldn't be a problem for him: he's a big fan of lists, his plans for the day. Exhibit A: Ramsey places his planner book on a table and opens the book to the middle. On the two pages is a list of approximately 200 things he must accomplish, most of which dealt with moving into his new house: change the addresses, find a mail box, put up four dog pens, buy a flag for the dog pen, check out security systems. And on and on.

''That's the mother of all lists,'' he says. ''I've always been that way, I'm very meticulous. My wife [Virginia] calls it obsessive compulsive. But I want it done the way I want it done. [Redskins tackle] Jon Jansen laughs at me so hard. Anywhere I go I research things. I'm incredibly thorough.''

Jansen certainly laughed when he accompanied Ramsey to the house (which now is complete) and listened to him grill the builder on every little detail.

''When you look at it, Patrick has to remind himself to breathe and eat,'' says Jansen, his best friend on the team, laughing. ''He has a spreadsheet for everything. He is a very detail-oriented person. But he does a great job covering everything he needs to do on and off the field.''

Details are important at this position, especially when playing for a coach who was a Heisman Trophy winner at the position.

''We watched him throw a ball against Dallas where he took an extra step and the middle linebacker tipped it,'' Spurrier says. ''If he had thrown it sooner, he could have gotten it in there without the linebacker having an effect on it. Little things like that. But he has a wonderful attitude and a commitment to the game. He has his life in order and he has the drive to be the best. He really works at it. He was much more knowledgable at the end of the season. And this offseason should prepare him to truly be ready to play.''

Don't get him wrong, Ramsey is not obsessed with only football. Church occupies his time, too. He's married, has a dog (Dixie) and loves his game nights with his wife, their pastor and his wife#=Denny and Bridget Henderson. They'll play Ultimate Outburst, Taboo, Scattegories and Cranium, among others.

''I can't lose in anything and be OK with it,'' he says. ''But [the guys] don't stand a chance with Taboo. It's harder for guys to communicate on that level.''

But football is what makes him money, and well-known, and it fees his competitive craving. In Washington, as he knows, quarterbacks are a big deal. And the road is littered with those who have tried, and failed, to make this their town for any length of time: Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, Brad Johnson, Jeff George. It goes on.

Ramsey wants to change that. Which is why he's so hard on himself. But as he returns to watching the tape, he glimpses what he hopes is a common occurence this fall. Against the Texans' three-deep zone, with a safety walking near the line of scrimmage, Ramsey connects for a 13-yard curl to Gardner.

''That's the way you hope every play works,'' Ramsey says.

The same goes for the next play. This time, on first and 10 from the Houston 46 and facing the same coverage, Ramsey takes a five-step drop and pump fakes a hitch to Gardner. Then Gardner sprints upfield and grabs a pass, turning it into a 33-yard gain.

But that's not the highlight of the game for him. That comes in the third quarter on second and eight from his own 40. Houston plays both safeties deep, a standard cover two. Ramsey wants to hit receiver Darnerien McCants on a post down the middle. There's a problem: the middle linebacker. Ramsey takes care of that with a perfect fake, delaying the linebacker and clearing the middle.

He hits McCants in stride for a 30-yard gain.

''That's the best play of my life,'' Ramsey says. ''I put it all together. This is the way the play is supposed to work. But here's where I'm tough on myself: the ball could have been a little higher. I hit him belly level; I'd like to hit him at eye level.''

Ramsey is relaxed on tape, just as he's looked all offseason. Every newspaper and TV station seemingly wants a piece of him and he's granted each request, never looking bothered. Always looking upbeat. He feels the same way on the field. The game has slowed down for him, which means his career could speed up.

''You can almost think during a play,'' Ramsey says. ''I can drop back and see that a safety is getting deep and I'll keep my eyes over here until I need to throw it over there. I can toy with guys and get them even more open than they already are. Usually when I get to my second step I know where I'm going with the ball.''

Still, he'll chastise himself during this tape session for helping cause a fumbled handoff. He knocks himself for rushing the handoff, a trait he knows he must change. And he criticizes himself for not changing a protection on a play in which his lineman appeared outmanned, resulting in a hurried incompletion. But he knew what he had done wrong. Then, on another pass, he implores himself to ''throw with confidence.''

''I had to learn so much,'' Ramsey says of last season. ''Even things I knew I wasn't sure of knowing them because it was all so new to me.''

It won't be this season. Training camp starts July 28 and that's when everyone hopes to see his growth. Those at Redskins Park say they've already seen it, pointing out his increased knowledge of the offense. They also don't worry about him handling the pressure.

''Now that we have all these new players, everyone will come back and say, 'Now young man, it's time for you to play,' '' Brindise says. ''He loves that. We accept the responsibility of getting him ready to play every week. Do I think he can do it? Yes I definitely do. We're all excited. We've gotten better this offseason and now it comes down to can that young man perform the way he's capable of performing?''

In many ways, Ramsey's success starts on tape. The more he grasps what he sees on tape, the better he'll get.

''But I'm never good enough when I watch myself,'' Ramsey says. ''That's sometimes hard to deal with because I'm so very hard on myself, but at the same time that's what will make me a better player. This is what I'm driven to do.''

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story first appeared in The Journal Newspapers (www.jrnl.com). John Keim has covered the Redskins for The Journal since 1994 and has been with Warpath since 1995 and The Insiders for the past two years.

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