John Burrell is heading into his 12th season as an NFL athletic trainer. At every stop in his career, at both the college and pro level, Burrell has worked with exceptional quarterbacks.
It's a list that includes Baltimore's Steve McNair, Green Bay's Brett Favre and the Redskins' Mark Brunell.
Asked if there's a common thread between those three, Burrell said: "Actually, they're totally different in terms of their personality. But what they all have is the willingness to compete. They're some of the most competitive people I've ever met."
Burrell was the assistant athletic trainer at Jacksonville between 1995 and 2003, during Brunell's highly-successful tenure with the Jaguars. Burrell joined the Redskins in 2004 as head athletic trainer. That's the same season Joe Gibbs brought in Brunell.
After having worked with Brunell for a decade, Burrell says one thing he's observed about the veteran quarterback is that he's at his best in crisis times.
"The thing about Mark," said Burrell, "is that he'll never say anything negative--no matter the situation. That's one of his strengths.
"He pushes so hard to play, and to stay on the field. Sometimes you just have to be honest with a player like Mark, and say, 'You just can't go.' Even when he had that hamstring injury in 2004, he was stubborn and wanted to play. He wanted to try to push through it."
Of course, Brunell and all Redskins players are expected to be in full pads for the first workouts of training camp on July 31. Brunell is coming off an off-season finger injury but is expected to be at full health.
When Baltimore comes to FedExField on Saturday, Aug. 5, for a scrimmage, Burrell will look across the field and see another old friend in McNair. McNair is, of course, being groomed for the Ravens' starting QB job after a long career in Houston and Tennessee.
Said Burrell: "I spoke with Steve about three weeks ago, at his camp at Alcorn State. It's his second season with the camp and he has about 500 kids involved.
"Baltimore's a new opportunity for him, but I'm sure he would have wanted to stay in Tennessee. He likes consistency, he likes to stay in once place. For those reasons, I'm surprised he left Tennessee. But I'm sure he'll still make his home in Nashville."
Burrell was the head athletic trainer at Alcorn State, in Lorman, Miss., during McNair's college career there between 1992 and 1994.
As a student athletic trainer at Southern Mississippi between 1986 and 1990, Burrell struck up a working relationship with a young QB who would go on to the Atlanta Falcons and then to stardom with the Packers.
Burrell insists Favre is nothing more than a "good-old country boy who really doesn't like being in the spotlight. He doesn't like the attention."
Adds Burrell: "After the season he had last year, and the way things went for Brett and for the Packers, I didn't expect him to retire. He's really a low-key guy, and I know he didn't want to go out with a bad season, with a sour taste, like that."
During the last few weeks, Burrell, Redskins medical director Bubba Tyer and assistant athletic trainers Eric Steward and Larry Hess have put the final touches on the team's athletic training room in preparation for the start of camp.
Asked what it takes to make an outstanding NFL quarterback, Burrell thought about his years with Favre, McNair and Brunell, then said: "These are guys you don't have to push. They push themselves."