Spurrier: Wuerffel's return a backup plan

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ASHBURN, Va. - Besides their days at the University of Florida and an affinity for playing under center, Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier and quarterback Danny Wuerffel can agree on one more thing.

Wuerffel will not unseat Patrick Ramsey as Washington's starting quarterback.

After a well-attended morning practice at Redskins Park yesterday, Spurrier stated in no uncertain terms that Ramsey's status as the team's No. 1 quarterback would not change despite the return of Wuerffel, who started four games for Washington last season.

"Patrick Ramsey is by far our best quarterback," Spurrier said. "I've said that many, many times. Danny gives us some insurance. If something happens to Patrick, either he or Rob Johnson will go in the game and play well. It's strictly an insurance position."

Ten minutes later, Wuerffel - who won the Heisman Trophy under Spurrier in 1996 - echoed his coach's sentiments.

"I think there's no question that Patrick is the guy," said Wuerffel, who had planned on trying out for the Seattle Seahawks before the Redskins had called. "He's earned that spot. ... I think everybody in this building knows that, and I think everybody's committed to supporting him to lead us."

Still, Wuerffel's arrival after signing with the team as an unrestricted free agent Sunday was curious. Although he had completed a team-best 63 percent of his passes and had been pulled from games due only to shoulder injuries, Wuerffel threw just three touchdowns - all in a 27-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 28 - against six interceptions and 11 sacks.

And Wuerffel's arm has never been confused with Brett Favre's - which would seem to contradict Spurrier's reliance on pinpoint passing in his Fun 'N' Gun system.

But Spurrier said the coaching staff was uncomfortable with the prospect of entering the regular season with one veteran (Johnson) and two rookies (seventh-round draft pick Gibran Hamdan and undrafted signee Brad Banks).

"We were sitting around here saying, 'We could have Danny Wuerffel as the third back competing with Rob or else we've got two rookies that are certainly nowhere near ready to play," Spurrier said. "So it just made sense to get a player in here that knows our system."

To make room for Wuerffel, the team released Banks. Wuerffel's signing may actually be an indication of the team's unhappiness with Johnson's play.

Johnson, who had been the backup quarterback to Brad Johnson with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year, has struggled in his transition from Jon Gruden's West Coast offense to Spurrier's system.

But Johnson welcomed Wuerffel's presence, calling the addition of competition "awesome."

"I don't know if anyone saw Seabiscuit, but he doesn't run without competition," Johnson said. "It's fun to have competition. It's not fun to come out here and go through the motions every day."

NOTES: Spurrier said injuries will prevent running backs Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson from playing in the team's preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday.

Betts missed practice for the sixth consecutive day with a sprained left elbow, while Watson practiced lightly despite a sprained right knee. Both were expected to play as the coaching staff tries to evaluate whether Betts, Watson, Trung Canidate or Chad Morton deserves to be the starting running back.

Spurrier said second-year tailback Robert Gillespie and rookie Sultan McCullough would be ready to play behind Canidate and Morton. ... Defensive end Regan Upshaw missed practice for the second straight day to rest his surgically repaired right knee.

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