Conklin fails to get grip on job as Redskins' QB II Poor effort could lead to third-string status

August 18, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- The future is not now for Cary Conklin.

After the wreckage of the Washington Redskins' 24-21, overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns at RFK Stadium Friday night, Conklin appeared to be the biggest loser.

The second-year quarterback was given an opportunity by Redskins coach Joe Gibbs to beat out Stan Humphries for the backup quarterback job, but he wasn't up to the test.

After replacing Mark Rypien in the third period, he completed five of 16 passes for 70 yards, and he fumbled while trying to dive for a first down in overtime. That set up Matt Stover's game-winning, 40-yard field goal.

Conklin didn't lose the game alone. The defense let journeyman Todd Philcox, a player the Browns have been looking to replace, march his team 80 yards for the tying touchdown in the final 1 minute, 46 seconds of regulation after Chip Lohmiller missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt.

But Conklin may have lost the most in the game, a chance to be Rypien's backup. Now, he's likely to spent the season carrying a clipboard as the No. 3 quarterback. Under new rules this year, the No. 3 quarterback can play in a regular-season game only if the first two are injured.

Conklin got the chance because Gibbs had been intrigued with his potential in camp.

"The reason I played Cary tonight is that he's made the biggest jump in camp. He's made the biggest leap in my eyes," Gibbs said after the game.

Even Rypien admitted he's impressed with Conklin's natural talents, his big arm and his ability to move on his feet.

"Watching some of his raw tools, I think you kind of wish you had some of the things he has. He has pretty good feet," Rypien said.

By contrast, Rypien's lack of mobility is one of his biggest drawbacks.

However, Conklin's lack of experience showed against the Browns.

Even Conklin called his play "mediocre" and blamed himself for the fumble.

"I knew I had to get 9 yards [for a first down], so I tried to jump for it. They sandwiched me pretty good, but I've got to hold onto the ball," he said.

Although Gibbs wouldn't make it official, Humphries -- who didn't play against the Browns -- almost certainly will remain the backup. Gibbs said he was unhappy with the way Humphries played last year when Rypien got hurt, but it's obvious this is not the time for Conklin to step in.

"I'm not sure that it changes anything. I'm just trying to work my way through it with those three guys. I like all three of them," Gibbs said.

When Gibbs talks about his backup quarterbacks, he includes veteran Jeff Rutledge in the mix, but Rutledge hasn't challenged the first three.

If Rypien stays healthy all year, it may not matter who the backup quarterback is. There's no doubt the season rests on his shoulders. He looked sharp against the Browns, as he completed seven of 11 passes for 109 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark, before he retired in the third quarter with a 21-14 lead.

"Ryp's the man," Clark said. "Ryp's a big key to us winning. I think if he stays healthy, he'll be back in the Pro Bowl again."

Rypien also may need to put a lot of points on the board if the Redskins don't get their defense straightened out.

They didn't get a good pass rush, and the secondary was shaky. The dislocated wrist that has sidelined cornerback A.J. Johnson has been a blow to their defense, because Martin Mayhew and Alvoid Mays are struggling.

Mayhew was victimized twice by rookie Michael Jackson -- a 33-yard interference penalty and a 48-yard completion -- as he virtually handed the Browns a third-period touchdown. Mays got beat on Mike Oliphant's touchdown catch on the final play of regulation and ex-Maryland receiver Vernon Joines' 40-yard catch on the first play of overtime.

Gibbs gave the players off yesterday and today. But when they return to work tomorrow, Clark expects the coach will give them a "butt-chewing."

"Any time Joe's not feeling good, we're not feeling good, because we're going to take the brunt of it," Clark said.

NOTES: Gibbs said that Gerald Riggs "took a step up" as he started and gained 52 yards in 13 carries. The minus is that he lost a fumble. "I don't like the fumble. I like the way he ran," Gibbs said. . . . The Redskins must move 17 players by Tuesday to get the roster down to 60 players. . . . The injury report: S Alvin Walton (knee sprain), TE Ken Whisenhunt (ankle sprain), DL Ron Stokes (shoulder sprain), TE Ron Middleton (hamstring) and LB Jack Bradford (bruised elbow). None of the injuries appears to be serious.

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