Redskins are ready to rumble at QB

Johnson and George give team depth now, controversy later?

Pro Football

July 30, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - One could argue that in a fantasy matchup, the Washington Redskins' second team would give the Cleveland Browns' first team a battle.

Something so seemingly unlikely could happen if for no other reason than because quarterback Jeff George is the leader of that second group. And often times, when he is on the field, things happen.

George, the much-heralded, much-maligned, high-priced backup that landed in Washington after a one-year stint with the Minnesota Vikings, is known for his cannon arm and accurate passing as well as his spoiled-brat image and sideline blowup while in Atlanta with then coach June Jones. One thing he is though, is talented.

Last season, George took a Vikings team that started out 2-4 and directed it to an 8-2 finish after starter Randall Cunningham and reviving what had been an explosive offense the previous year. George finished with the third-best quarterback rating (94.2) in the league while tossing 23 touchdowns.

Minnesota's receivers - Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed - got a lot of the credit for the team's success. Coach Dennis Green said the offensive system made his team so successful.

Second-year quarterback Daunte Culpepper is now running things for Minnesota, who decided not to give George the long-term contract he wanted.

"They were 2-4 for a reason last year, and I'd like to think I helped them get back on track," George said. "We won six, or seven in a row. The system didn't do much the first six weeks."

George now comes to Washington as Brad Johnson's backup in the preseason much in the same way he went to Minnesota as Cunningham's backup last year.

He signed a four-year contract and could very well be the starter next season if Johnson, whose contract is up at the end of the year, does not re-sign.

But for now, Redskins coach Norv Turner dismisses any controversy by declaring Johnson the starter and George the backup, but raves about his backup, too.

"The people who have covered us, been close to us and spent any time with me know that Brad Johnson is our quarterback," Turner said. "Jeff George is our backup. Hey, we are fortunate."

Fortunate enough to have two players ranked in the top 5 in quarterback rating last year. If this is to be a Super Bowl run for the Redskins, they will need consistent play at quarterback, something Johnson gave them in reaching the second round of the playoffs.

In fact, Johnson had a Pro Bowl season. He set a Redskins record with 316 completions while throwing for 4,005 yards in his first year with the team.

That doesn't mean George has accepted the notion of being a backup.

Asked whether he is competing for the starting job, George said, "Absolutely. You don't start in this league for nine years straight and don't think that. We are just fortunate to have two guys here."

So far, George said the Redskins offense has been a good fit. He likes to throw the ball downfield, and he said that is one of the things the team does well.

Johnson and George have been splitting snaps evenly in practice, which means nothing according to Turner. Both have looked good, with Johnson, as expected, more comfortable and polished running the offense.

"The difference this year is just being familiar with the system," Johnson said.

Johnson and George experienced quarterback controversies in Minnesota and with Cunningham. Johnson's came the year before George's when he sustained an early injury and Cunningham rallied the team, sparking a deep-passing attack with Moss and Carter. Johnson came back midway through the year, got hurt again in his first game back, and remained on the bench even when healthy again after Cunningham directed a 15-1 season.

But Turner insists there's no controversy. Johnson is the starter, and George is the backup.

"If we have an injury, if we have a problem at the quarterback position, we will have a solution," Turner said.

NOTES: Today's practice has been moved from 3:15 to 1 p.m. It is open to the public. ... All fans who attended Friday's rain-shortened scrimmage will receive a season pass to the remainder of training camp.

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