STEPPING INTO THE POCKET Redskins wonder if time has come for Stan Humphries


Tempe, Ariz. -- Today is the first day of the rest of Stan Humphries' life.

The 25-year-old quarterback steps into the pro football pressure cooker tonight.

When he makes his first regular-season start, for the Washington Redskins against the Phoenix Cardinals at Sun Devil Stadium tonight, he has a chance to win pro football's equivalent of a lottery ticket.

If this is the start of a successful career, he can become rich and famous.

If he doesn't live up to the expectations, he could become another Todd Blackledge, a quarterback who never became as good as he was supposed to be.

For the Redskins, though, there is more anticipation than apprehension.

Since he was drafted on the sixth round in 1988, Humphries has been touted as something special.

Coach Joe Gibbs was so dazzled by his talent -- Gibbs calls Humphries "one of the best pure passers I've ever seen" -- that he started him a year ago in an exhibition game against the Minnesota Vikings when he was fresh from a rookie year of being stashed on the injured-reserve list.

He wasn't ready then, but the Redskins say he's ready now.

The knee injury that Mark Rypien suffered last Sunday has given Humphries a golden opportunity.

Gibbs said the timing is right for Humphries.

"For him, it worked out the best way," Gibbs said. "He's spent three years getting prepared for this. It's probably about the right amount of time. Any longer than that and they probably start getting antsy wanting to play. I think it's coming at a good time for him."

Humphries is considered such a good prospect that you wonder how he lasted until the sixth round.

One of the reasons was that he transferred from Louisiana State University, where he wasn't comfortable, and played at a small school, Northeast Louisiana University, where he followed in the footsteps of Bubby Brister.

Even though Humphries led the team to the Division I-AA national title as a senior, his coaches didn't rank him in the same league as Brister.

Humphries isn't as fiery or as outspoken as Brister, but the Redskins say he'll be a better quarterback.

Listen to Bobby Beathard, the former Redskins general manager who now is managing the San Diego Chargers, talk about Humphries:

"I think he's really a talented kid," Beathard said. "He's got so much natural ability. He's a gifted passer, he's smart and there's a little bit of a gambler in him, which is good. I really like the kid."

Back in 1988, the Redskins were coming off their most recent Super Bowl season and Jay Schroeder was sulking behind Doug Williams. Rypien had just spent two years on injured reserve and was untested.

Beathard wanted to trade Schroeder during the draft and take Humphries in the third or fourth round. But he couldn't pull off the Schroeder trade -- it didn't happen until September -- and he bypassed Humphries. When he was still there on the sixth round, Beathard couldn't pass him up.

Even though Humphries may lack Brister's fire, he doesn't lack self-confidence.

Cornerback Darrell Green said: "He doesn't act like a rookie. He's certainly not under-confident. I just hope he's not overconfident."

Tackle Jim Lachey said he's got the "typical quarterback mentality."

Lachey said: "He's not afraid to open his mouth for a young guy, which I think is good. I played for one of the greatest communicators in San Diego in Dan Fouts. He talked in the huddle. He'd say, 'Hey, Kellen Winslow, you've got to make a big play,' or 'Hey, Lachey, protect my blind side.' I like a quarterback who talks a little bit."

Humphries said: "I think I'm confident in my ability, but I don't think I'm overconfident. A quarterback has to be confident in himself or he won't be around long."

A native of Louisiana, Humphries has the right bloodlines for a quarterback. Williams, Brister, Terry Bradshaw, Bert Jones and Joe Ferguson all came from Louisiana.

His parents lived in Shreveport, a couple of streets away from where Ferguson's parents lived. Ferguson was 15 years older, but when he visited his parents, Humphries would knock on the door and ask him to throw with him. Ferguson would, and eventually he included Humphries in his workouts with Roger Carr and Pat Tilley.

"I basically just learned a lot," Humphries said of his days working out with Ferguson.

Young quarterbacks usually struggle. The Redskins were upset in Rypien's first start -- which happened to come in Phoenix -- even though Rypien played well.

After tonight's game with Phoenix and a bye next week, things get tougher for the Redskins. They have three weeks in which they play the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles and then the Giants again.

Humphries could play well and still lose to the Giants twice. The Redskins have lost seven of their past eight non-strike games against the Giants.

But Humphries doesn't seem concerned.

"I'm not worried about it. We saw that [schedule] before the season started, so whatever comes along, we'll tend to that," he said.

If he's as good as the Redskins say he is, Humphries should tend to it.

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