Suddenly, it's Conklin's ball Redskins QB says he's ready to end apprenticeship


When Cary Conklin was being recruited in high school, he even dazzled the college coaches on the basketball floor.

Gary Pinkel, who was the University of Washington's offensive coordinator in 1986 and is now the University of Toledo's head coach, remembers seeing him play basketball in his hometown of Yakima, Wash., on a recruiting trip.

"The game was tied with three seconds to go and he took down a rebound and swished a shot the length of the court from his own foul line," Pinkel said.

Pinkel said Conklin did that twice in high school, although Conklin said the first time was at halftime.

"He's just a great competitor," Pinkel said. "I remember he once dislocated a thumb in practice and it was sticking sideways and he just ripped it and put it back in place. He's unbelievable. He's tougher than nails. He plays like a linebacker."

Listening to Pinkel describe Conklin, it's almost hard to believe he's the same quarterback the Washington Redskins will throw to the wolves (er, the Eagles) tomorrow in Philadelphia.

With Mark Rypien sidelined with a knee injury, the Redskins will give Conklin his first NFL start, and they're obviously worried about going with a youngster.

Coach Richie Petitbon, who made a career out of terrorizing young quarterbacks when he was the Redskins' defensive coordinator, didn't hide his concern this week.

"Do I have any other choices?" he said earlier this week when he was asked if he was comfortable going with Conklin.

Even some of the Redskins' opponents are curious about Conklin.

Tim Rooney, the New York Giants' director of pro personnel, will be scouting the game. He said he saw Conklin play in college and likes his potential, but knows he has to prove himself tomorrow.

"This is the test," Rooney said. "I've liked his mobility, his toughness, his arm. He has to prove he can make the quick reads and the quick throws."

Rooney couldn't figure a worse place than Philadelphia for a young quarterback to make his first start.

"You'd rather go anyplace than down there. It's extremely tough. I saw the slaughter," he said in reference to the game on Nov. 12, 1990, when the Eagles knocked out quarterbacks Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries. It became known as the "body bag" game and was the last time Rypien didn't start at quarterback for the Redskins.

The one person who doesn't seem concerned about the task is Conklin.

"It's going to be a big thrill," he said. "I'm real excited. It's a great opportunity for me to show what I can do. I'm just looking forward to it."

He said he wasn't nervous when he was thrust into the game last Sunday against the Phoenix Cardinals and he doesn't act as if he will be tomorrow.

"I'm just trying to remain calm," he said. "I don't feel I have all the weight on my shoulders going in. I'm surrounded by some great offensive people, one of the best lines in the league, so I feel good about that."

He's not the type to be worried about the unsettled situation at left tackle, where veteran Joe Jacoby might have to start because Jim Lachey is out for the season with a knee injury and Moe Elewonibi is questionable with a pulled hamstring.

That's probably because Conklin, 25, is only inexperienced in NFL play.

"I was always one of the better athletes," he said of his earlier years.

He has been in the big time since he was 9 years old competing in the Punt, Pass and Kick contest at halftime of Super Bowl XII at the Superdome. He finished second.

"Just being there was a blast," he said.

In high school, Conklin played football, baseball and basketball. His arm was strong enough that the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his sophomore year in college even though he didn't play baseball collegiately.

He even has been thrown in the fray in the past. The Huskies were trying to redshirt him in his sophomore year when Chris Chandler, now with the Phoenix Cardinals, was knocked out of a game against Arizona. Conklin passed for 237 yards and brought the team back from a 10-0 deficit to a 21-18 lead, although Arizona tied it.

Conklin also relieved Chandler in the final two games and then started the next two years. He set the school's single-season passing record of 2,569 yards in 1989, and his career passing mark of 4,850 is second to Sonny Sixkiller.

Still, if he had been able to redshirt his sophomore year, he would have played another year and might have been a first-round choice in 1991 instead of a fourth-round pick by the Redskins in 1990.

"It would have been interesting to have had a fifth year. It probably would have made a difference where I was drafted, but I don't look back on that," he said.

"I think he would have been higher than a fourth-round pick [if he'd had another year]. There's no question about it," Pinkel said.

Going higher a year later could have changed his image. Instead of being a Redskins developmental project who spent two years on the injured-reserve list, he could have been one of the most touted players in the country.

In any case, the Eagles game will be what Petitbon calls his "baptism of fire," and Conklin knows it won't be easy.

"I think it's going to be a tough game. They always play us tough. It's always a hard-nosed game against Philadelphia. They're tenacious," he said.

He doesn't worry about the possibility that Petitbon could yank him for veteran Rich Gannon, who joined the team Aug. 19 and is still learning the offense.

"I want to play well, I want to win the game. I'm not worried about that. I know I have to play well for us to have a chance to win," he said.

Conklin had a disappointing training camp, slowed by a knee injury, but is ready now although he was off target at times in practice this week.

"I think I should have had a better camp than I did," he said.

Nobody will care about that if he does the job tomorrow.

"When you're thrown right into it, that's the time you have to perform," he said.

That time is here for Conklin.

NOTES: S Todd Bowles was re-signed yesterday and DL Jim Wahler was waived. The Redskins had planned to bring Bowles back all along, but made the move yesterday because S Danny Copeland has a tender knee. . . . Elewonibi (hamstring) missed practice again, so Jacoby probably will start at left tackle. . . . WR Mark Stock will be inactive for the game tomorrow along with Rypien (knee), DL Sterling Palmer (knee) and TE Terry Orr (back).

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