ASHBURN, Va. - As Steve Spurrier's first quarterback at the University of Florida, Shane Matthews has forged a unique, familiar relationship with the Washington Redskins coach.
But with that familiarity comes the knowledge that Matthews must successfully lead the offense as Washington's starting quarterback in Sunday's season opener against the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field or face the dreaded hook that Spurrier has applied liberally in the past.
"I was his first quarterback at Florida, so I guess that makes it extra special in a way," Matthews said of his 16th NFL start and first with the Redskins. "But I still need to play well. If you're not playing the way you were coached and he's not pleased with it, he'll make a change, and he has every right to do that. So I'm going to prepare as much as I can to be ready this week and go out and play well."
And yet Matthews, who led the Gators to two Southeastern Conference titles from 1990 to 1992 and was never benched by Spurrier, is comforted by the offensive system - nicknamed Fun-N-Gun - that Spurrier has transported with him to Washington.
"We're sometimes on the same page," said Matthews, who had played in the West Coast offense with the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears before signing with Washington as an unrestricted free agent. "I know what he's thinking at times, and he likes to take chances. That's the way you've got to play in this league."
Matthews, 32, has been beset by injuries during a nine-year professional career, which began as an undrafted free agent. All 15 starts came with Chicago in the past three seasons, and Matthews has had to share duties with Jim Miller and Cade McNown.
Although Matthews beat out former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel and first-round draft pick Patrick Ramsey for the starting job by leading the Redskins in completion percentage (65.3), yards (533), and touchdowns (six) in five preseason games, Spurrier said this week that he will not hesitate to rotate Matthews and Wuerffel.
"In a way, I think it takes pressure off both of them, to tell you the truth," Spurrier said, noting that Matthews will take 60 to 70 percent of the reps with the first-team offense during practice and Wuerffel will take the rest. "Neither one of them has gone an entire season. ... I believe getting them ready every week is the best way to go."
If the uncertainty of waiting for Spurrier to determine the week's starter is supposed to gnaw at Matthews' nerves, he hasn't shown it this week. Though Matthews is not known for having a powerful arm or the fastest feet, he is regarded among his teammates as perhaps the calmest player in the huddle.
Wide receiver Jacquez Green, who played with Wuerffel and for Spurrier at Florida, said Matthews' demeanor doesn't change whether he's facing third-and-long or has tossed a touchdown.
"He's always been a laid-back, relaxed sort of dude," Green said. "I'd rather have that than have the rah-rah type quarterback who tries to show up guys or show his receivers up. I'd rather have the laid-back guy who goes out and does his job and keeps the offense moving."
Matthews' calm is obvious even to his teammates on the other side of the ball during practice.
"Just me watching him the last couple of weeks, he's a confident quarterback," said cornerback Champ Bailey. "He doesn't seem to be real tense and worried about stuff. He goes out and does his job."
Matthews emphasized that a lack of expression should not be mistaken for the absence of a competitive spirit.
"I hate to lose, but people just show it in different ways," he said. "I don't show a lot of emotion. ... That's the way I've always been."
Matthews was the quarterback when the Redskins scored 19 points against opponents' first-team defenses during the preseason. Whether the offense can duplicate such production Sunday will depend largely on his performance and Matthews knows it.
"If I can go out and play the way I'm coached to play," he said, "I feel like I can have a good year, and I feel like the Redskins can as well."
Next for Redskins
Opponent: Arizona Cardinals in season opener for both teams
Site: FedEx Field, Landover
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WJFK (106.7 FM)
Line: Redskins by 7