Conklin's mettle under pressure tested in scrimmage 5) Quarterback's poise impresses Gibbs


CARLISLE, Pa. -- When Joe Gibbs looks at a young quarterback, he sees a diamond in the rough.

What the Washington Redskins' coach has to find out is the quality of the diamond.

"You can have a diamond in the rough and you're sitting there looking at it and you're saying, 'Hey, this thing is going to be great,' " he said.

"But when you put the pressure on and there's 70,000 people, all of a sudden a few fissures show in it and then a crack or two develops and then it's gone," he said.

Gibbs always tries to find the quarterback who doesn't crack.

"There's been some real finds at quarterback. I'd rate it as the one position where work can do the most. If the guy's a dedicated worker at quarterback, I think you can go farther than at any other position," he said.

Gibbs is now examining young Cary Conklin and trying to find out if there are many cracks in his game.

He was impressed with what he saw of Conklin on Wednesday night in the scrimmage against the Pittsburgh Steelers and is likely to take another look at him in a scrimmage today against the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass.

Gibbs won't say how long he'll play Conklin against the Patriots. He wants the other two quarterbacks in camp, Stan Humphries and Jeff Rutledge, to stay ready.

Conklin, who faced a good rush against the Steelers because the Redskins were playing with an inexperienced offensive line, impressed the coach with his poise. Gibbs also liked the fact that after one of his two interceptions, Conklin made the tackle.

"I think that probably says as much as anything I saw. He was going to try to put that guy away. He was mad, and I think it shows he's a competitor. I think he's a tough guy," Gibbs said.

Since it was only a scrimmage, Conklin risked an injury trying to make a tackle. According to the scrimmage rules, quarterbacks aren't even supposed to be tackled by defensive players.

But Conklin figured that didn't apply to him. "You've got to be a tough player," he said. "That's the way I've always felt about the game of football. I certainly wasn't going to run the other way. That's not the way I play football."

Gibbs likes the way he plays.

"I think he's big and strong [6 feet 4, 215 pounds], and I think he's got an excellent arm. I think he can throw plenty hard enough, but he's got to get a little more of a touch on the shorter things. He's got all the qualities that you like to have. He's not a runner, but he can move around," Gibbs said.

Although the first signs are good, Gibbs said he can't be sure about Conklin's potential until he plays in the regular season.

"The toughest thing about a quarterback [is evaluating him]. It just drives you crazy. You don't know until he's out there," Gibbs said.

Conklin was a fourth-round draft choice out of the University of Washington a year ago.

Following in the footsteps of Mark Rypien and Stan Humphries, he spent his first season on injured reserve with a slight knee injury.

But it was a frustrating experience for Conklin, who had set the single-season passing record of 2,569 yards for the Huskies the previous year.

"It was a tough year. It's hard to be on IR. You don't feel like you're part of the team," he said.

Conklin figures to be a part of it this year. Under a new rule, a third quarterback can dress for each game, although he can play only if the first two are injured. Conklin is likely to be No. 3 this year -- behind Rypien [assuming that he ends his holdout] and Humphries.

If Rypien hasn't arrived when the veterans practice for the first time Monday, it would mean more work for him.

"I'm not thinking about that. I think Ryp will be in. If he isn't, it's more reps for all of us," he said.

Meanwhile, Conklin can't wait for a chance to see more action.

It's easy for him to describe his toughest task right now.

"It's just being patient, waiting for my turn. It's a hard thing to do," he said.

NOTES: While the rookies are scrimmaging in New England, the veterans are due to check in today, although the team doesn't take roll until Gibbs holds a team meeting tomorrow night. . . . Of the 4 unsigned veterans, the toughest 2 to sign may be Rypien and cornerback Martin Mayhew. The Redskins have wrapped up a deal with OL Joe Jacoby that just needs to be signed, and they're close to a deal with DL Eric Williams. . . . The hang-up in Rypien's talks is that Rypien wants the average salary for a quarterback and the 2 sides can't agree on what the average is. Rypien says the average for the total value of the contracts is $1.7 million. The Redskins counter the average base salary is about $1.4. The 2 sides didn't talk yesterday, and the odds that Rypien will be a holdout are increasing.

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