You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
The news today that Mark Brunell broke the index finger on his left hand—his throwing hand—in workouts earlier this week is hardly earth-shattering stuff. While the expected 2-3 weeks that he will be out of action may force him to miss the team’s June 16-18 minicamp, there should be no problem with him being in shape and in rhythm for training camp, even given the fact that he’ll have to learn Al Saunders’ new offense.
What the injury does, however, is bring up the question of what would happen if this had occurred in, say, October. Would it be Todd Collins at the helm or would second-year player Jason Campbell get a shot?
The conventional wisdom is that Joe Gibbs would go with the veteran Collins as the caretaker should Brunell wind up on the sidelines for a significant amount of time. Applying the conventional wisdom to Gibbs’ handling of quarterbacks, however, is not always the best way to go. For example, who really thought that Patrick Ramsey’s job tenure as the starting quarterback would last less than 30 minutes last year?
The problem with Collins is that, while he is a solid citizen and he presumably understands Saunders’ offense better than almost anyone alive having worked under it for five years in Kansas City, he NFL playing resume is loaded with holes and question marks. In 11 NFL seasons had has started 17 games with 14 of those starts coming in 1997 when he was with the Buffalo Bills. In that season he threw for just 2,367 yards and posted a quarterback rating of just over 69. That’s not quite Brunell 2004 bad—he put up a 63 rating—but it’s close.
The Bills were so impressed with Collins’ potential after that season that they let him go to Kansas City. The Chiefs were so impressed with his ability that he didn’t take a single snap for two years while sitting behind the likes of Rich Gannon (pre-Raiders) and Elvis Grbac. Since 2001 Collins has been anchored on the bench behind Trent Green. He has attempted 27 passes in that time. Every single one of them has come when the Chiefs were comfortably ahead.
For seven years he’s been no better than the #2 guy. Contracts have come and gone and Collins has not found a chance to challenge for a starting job. That means that he hasn’t been looking for one or that he has been looking and there have been no takers. Both possibilities say something about Collins and not in a positive way.
Experience is a good asset and something that Gibbs values. But can it really be said the Todd Collins is an “experienced” quarterback? He many know Saunders’ offense inside and out in meetings and in practices but he has not demonstrated that he can execute that offense in a regular-season game situation. He has not faced a pressure two-minute drive in at least nine years unless you count the preseason. And if that impressed Gibbs, Babe Laufenberg would have been the team’s starting quarterback in the late 80’s.
Actually, Laufenberg’s and Collins’ careers are remarkably similar. Both spent most of their NFL careers glued to the bench getting one chance to start and failing to make the most of it. Collins is no Randall Cunningham or Trent Dilfer, fading former starters brought in as insurance. For that matter, he’s no Gus Frerotte, who demonstrated the ability to hold down a starting job for a few years.
There are those who will take this article as a rip of Collins but it’s not intended as that. His resume is what it is and I just want to make sure that everyone is aware of it before they go saying that Gibbs is going to hand him the #2 quarterback job.
Collins and Campbell have faced exactly the same number of pressure NFL situations in the past seven years; that is to say a combined total of none. Those who say that Campbell hasn’t demonstrated that he would be able to handle the starting job have a valid point. The problem is that there is absolutely nothing here that creates any confidence that Collins could get the job done if the starting job was thrust upon him.
We don’t know if a Brunell absence is something that Gibbs will have to deal with this year. But if you think you know how he’d handle it if it does, you need to guess again.
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington in 1937 through the 2001 season. For details and ordering information, go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com