Banks finds niche, but stays wary

Football: Past events leave the ex-Ravens quarterback in no mood to gloat over his success with the Redskins.

Pro Football

November 30, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - This ought to be a great time for Tony Banks. He is newly married, has found inner peace and is the starting quarterback for the hottest team in the NFL, the Washington Redskins.

And yet, even when his team is in the midst of a five-game win streak, his offensive linemen are giving him enough time to read a Harry Potter novel in the pocket and he is operating at nearly peak efficiency, it's hard to get Banks to smile, much less gloat.

The quarterback has seen this movie before, in St. Louis and with the Ravens, where the early reviews were good, but the ending turned out thumbs down.

"I've been in that position before, where I've put up numbers and I'm still looking for a job the next year, and I've won games and I'm still looking for a job the next year," said Banks this week. "Right now, the only time I'm having fun and we're having fun is when we're winning."

At 5-5, the Redskins, once the laughingstock of the NFL, are winning, and Banks, whose numbers are modest (51 percent completion rate, 1,263 yards, seven touchdowns), is 5-3 as the starter, having taken over after Jeff George was cut after Week 2.

Though it has taken some time, Banks, who arrived in Washington after being cut by the Dallas Cowboys early in training camp, has assimilated the complex offense of coach Marty Schottenheimer and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye.

Banks, who possesses one of the strongest arms in football, has virtually put his cannon on the shelf, primarily handing off to backs Stephen Davis and Ki-Jana Carter or throwing short passes off play-action.

Banks' only deep foray was in Washington's 17-14 overtime win over Carolina, the Redskins' first victory, when he connected with rookie Rod Gardner for an 85-yard, game-tying touchdown and a 48-yard pass in overtime that led to the winning field goal.

That's why Banks doesn't consider what he is doing a true test of his abilities, but he seems to be OK with that.

"I don't really consider this a hot streak," said Banks. "I'm doing what they ask me, but over the last few games, I haven't been put in a position where I've had to win games. I've been in positions before where I've had to win some games, and in Baltimore, I went on a personal stat streak, which would be a better analogy, but it's all about the end result, which is a win."

Inner contentment has both helped and hurt Banks in recent years, gaining him a reputation as a calm, unflappable sort. That's usually a good thing in athletic circles, but it has, at times, been turned on him by his detractors, making him out to be uncaring or unemotional.

In Dallas, for instance, the Cowboys, who come to Washington this Sunday, let it be known that they were unhappy with the work habits of Banks, whom they signed in the off-season to be the bridge between the retired Troy Aikman and rookie Quincy Carter.

"It's not a tough decision from the standpoint of what we wanted to accomplish," said Dallas coach Dave Campo, who has started four quarterbacks this season.

"The tough thing is that Quincy Carter got hurt. I think we made the right decision. I'm pleased for Tony, because I said right along that it wasn't necessarily about what Tony had done, and I felt he was going to have a chance to be successful in the league."

Banks, who is taking yoga classes to increase his physical flexibility, is crediting his faith and his status as a born-again Christian, which occurred in Baltimore in 1999, for his ability to weather the storms that have gathered professionally.

"Me coming to Christ has definitely helped," said Banks, who was baptized last Friday. "I try not to speak too much about it because I don't want to fall prey to the Deion [Sanders] syndrome, where people don't think it's real.

"On the field, it gives me a little sense of calm where, when I'm more successful, I'm able to calm down a little bit. Sometimes Marty gets on me because I get a little too excited out there, but at least he understands that. A lot of coaches haven't even understood that part of me, like I don't care. That couldn't be further from the truth."

Indeed, Schottenheimer, who signed Banks on the recommendation of his friend, Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil, who coached Banks in St. Louis for two years, has come to embrace him.

"Tony has done a very, very good job," said Schottenheimer. "He's been given this opportunity and all you can ask of an individual when you give them an opportunity is they do everything they can to perform. And he has done that.

"I really am particularly pleased with his leadership ability. There were questions and references made that he's kind of laid-back and he's not really into it. Nothing could be further from the truth. He's very much into it."

Just as importantly, Banks seems to have found an NFL home.

"This game is funny," said Ki-Jana Carter. "In the NFL, you can be wrong for 30 teams, and be right for that one team. One coach may like you for a certain reason and another may not. You just have to stay with it and find your niche."

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