Understudy Humphries under study Rypien's holdout is his big chance

July 16, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

CARLISLE, PA — CARLISLE, Pa. -- In Broadway musicals, when the understudy gets a chance to replace the leading performer, a star is born.

It even happens that way in pro football on occasion. Jeff Hostetler, who stepped in for injured quarterback Phil Simms and won a Super Bowl for the New York Giants, is the latest example.

These tales don't always have a happy ending, though.

When Stan Humphries of the Washington Redskins got a chance to step in after starting quarterback Mark Rypien hurt his knee last year, he didn't become a star.

He lost two of his five starts to the Giants and then was pulled in the fifth one against the Detroit Lions. In a relief role the next week, he suffered a knee injury, and his season was over.

He was back to being the understudy. But he hasn't lost any confidence, and said he thinks he'll get his curtain call in his fourth season this year.

"I think when you get in your fourth, fifth season in the league, it's your prime time," he said. "I think it's time to play. Right now, I'm just coming out here trying to be the starting quarterback. I don't look at myself as being a backup."

Humphries is getting a chance to showcase himself in practice this week because Rypien became the team's lone holdout after top draftpick Bobby Wilson signed a contract yesterday.

"I'm getting a lot more reps . . . a lot more opportunities," Humphries said after the team's first practice yesterday.

But he faces an uphill battle.

Coach Joe Gibbs still calls Rypien the No. 1 quarterback, and then there are those memories Gibbs has of the way Humphries played in his five starts.

It could be argued that the coach is judging him harshly because his two losses came at the hands of the Super Bowl champion Giants and in one of them, Earnest Byner couldn't hold onto what would have been the go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

But Gibbs doesn't use a curve when he grades his quarterbacks. He hasn't forgotten that Humphries was intercepted 10 times and threw only three touchdown passes last year. If Humphries isn't quite in Gibbs' doghouse, he may be close to a signing a lease.

"Those are very precious times for a quarterback [when he gets a chance to start]. That's his opportunity to really do it in the big time," Gibbs said.

By Gibbs' yardstick, Humphries didn't do it.

It especially galled Gibbs to lose two times to the Giants, a team that has beaten the Redskins six times in a row.

"The problem is we never beat them. Somehow, someday, somebody's got to beat them," he said of his quarterbacks.

Another strike against Humphries is that he wasn't in the best shape last year. Humphries admitted he got a little lax when he wasn't starting.

"When you're not playing, you kind of falter away a little bit," Humphries said.

This year, the 6-foot-2 quarterback worked out hard in the off-season and wants to stay in shape all year. He was told to report at 224 pounds and just missed it by checking in at 225.

Despite all his problems last year, Humphries thinks he learned from the experience. "I think it gives you a lot of confidence to get on the field in big games," he said.

One thing he may have going for him is that Rypien hasn't been dazzling, either, and has yet to stay healthy all year.

Now Humphries has to prove he can play well enough to make Gibbs forget last year.

"If a guy looks real good in camp, as a coach you have a tendency to say he learned from last year and he's going to be better. If he doesn't look good, you have to tendency to look back and say, well, he's not doing as well because he didn't do well last year," Gibbs said.

NOTES: Wilson, who's working at defensive tackle, had a short holdout. He missed only the morning practice before signing and suiting up for the afternoon practice. His agent, Robert Huebner, wanted the $725,000-a-year contract that Dallas Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith got last year in his 17th slot, but settled for a contract estimated in the $650,000-a-year range after the Redskins argued that defensive tackles don't make as much as running backs. Wilson hopes to make an impact. "My goal is to start," he said. . . . WR Joe Howard, whose legal last name is Howard-Johnson, will go by the name Joe Johnson. He said he was raised by the Johnson side of his family and has decided to use that name.

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