Mark Brunell dropped back to pass, his eyes scanning the Redskins' practice field, and threw a pass to Rod Gardner on a 15-yard sideline route. The wide receiver reached over a defender and pulled the ball in before getting pushed out of bounds.
Brunell smiled. It had been a while since he'd been in a passing groove--even if it was only during a mini-camp.
Since coming to Washington via a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team with whom he had spent the previous nine years, Brunell has quickly adapted to his new surroundings. He has spent a lot of time in the film room learning Joe Gibbs' offense with fellow QBs Patrick Ramsey and Tim Hasselbeck.
Last month's mini-camp was the first time Brunell was back enjoying football again, directing the Redskins' offense during scrimmages, rifling passes downfield--even scrambling out of the pocket when Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, crossed him up with defensive pressure.
"There were a lot of motions, formations, protections, routes--you name it," Brunell said. "We're just getting started with this offense. There's a ways to go, but as far as what we've installed at this point, I feel pretty comfortable with everything so far.
"Not having played for a long time, it was good to get back out there and get a pass rush in front of you and get in the huddle."
Most of last season in Jacksonville, Brunell was a backup to rookie Byron Leftwich as the Jaguars started a rebuilding process under new head coach Jack Del Rio. Brunell finished the year with just 484 passing yards and two scores.
Naturally, it was frustrating for Brunell to sit, but it did allow his various bumps and bruises to fully heal. An elbow injury in September had led to Leftwich being inserted into the starting lineup.
Coming into the 2004 campaign, Brunell said he is "as healthy as I've ever been."
With Brunell, the Redskins have one of the more celebrated veteran quarterbacks in the league. In 11 NFL seasons, the 6-1, 217-pound lefty has thrown for 25,793 yards and 144 touchdowns. His career passing rating of 85.2 ranks him as the 11th best passer in league history.
During his career, Brunell has been one of the league's more mobile quarterbacks. Never afraid to sidestep defensive pressure and escape out of the pocket, he has run for 2,226 yards, 15 touchdowns and a 5.1 yards-per-carry average.
Of course, Brunell turns 34 in September and doesn't have as the quickness he had 5-10 years ago.
"I don't run as much now--I think early on when I ran it was because I didn't know what I was seeing on the field," he said. "I was so young and if the first guy wasn't open, I had the ability to take off and try to make something happen. That was 8-9 years ago.
"I don't have the exact same ability, but I do think it's an important part of my game to turn something that isn't happening into something that could potentially be a big play. But I'm a better passer, a better leader and a better football player now. It might not be as exciting as running all over the field, but it's more effective."
In Washington, Brunell is expected to compete with Patrick Ramsey for the starting job. Ramsey participated in passing drills during the March mini-camp while Brunell and Hasselbeck took the snaps in scrimmages.
Ramsey is coming off right foot surgery and was held out of the scrimmages. He said during mini-camp that his foot felt "better than I thought it would." He added that he needs to rebuild strength and balance in the foot, but he expects to be back on the field for the second mini-camp on April 30-May 2.
Brunell, Ramsey and Hasselbeck have spent considerable time together in the past few weeks, delving into Gibbs' offense with quarterbacks coach Jack Burns.
Like Brunell, Ramsey's first impressions of Gibbs' offense are positive.
"I like the different looks that you give defenses and that the defense doesn't dictate what you do offensively," Ramsey said.
Even though Brunell is with a new team, a new coaching staff and a new offense, he said he isn't approaching this offseason any differently than ones in years past. There'll be mini-camps, quarterback sessions, workouts in the weight room and film study--all in preparation for next season, which opens for the Redskins on September 12 when they take on Tampa Bay at FedExField.
It helps having an experienced coaching staff in place. Brunell said Gibbs' style has elements that are similar to New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, who coached Brunell for eight years in Jacksonville.
"They expect 100 percent and will get 100 percent out of their players," he said. "Discipline, organization, hard-working football teams, physical football teams--so there are many similarities.
"Coach Gibbs commands respect instantly. Players appreciate that he's going to push you and he's going to make you work hard--but at the same time he's going to be fair and treat you like a man. He's going to create a good working environment here."