Bill Musgrave has learned quarterback play from the game's best, serving as a backup to a pair of Hall of Famers in Steve Young and John Elway. Musgrave went on to coach several quarterbacks to their best seasons at the collegiate and professional levels.
Given that track record, it's no surprise that Redskins' head coach Joe Gibbs, a Hall of Famer himself, hired Musgrave as the team's new offensive assistant-quarterbacks coach following last season.
Musgrave hopes his success carries over as the Redskins try to improve their offense, which ranked 30th out of 32 teams in 2004. He wants the Redskins' offense to do what it did well late last season--run the ball hard and sustain long drives--while employing a passing game that continually puts pressure on opposing defenses.
"I'm going to work with the whole staff to raise the level of our whole offense," Musgrave said. "We're looking to improve in a number of areas."
That would include everything from third-down conversions to the downfield passing attack. Gibbs recognized Musgrave's past accomplishments in those and other offensive statistics when Musgrave signed on with the Redskins in early January.
"He's been a part of a lot of [offenses] that have been real successful," Gibbs said. "He has a real good understanding of offensive football. He comes from the quarterback mindset where he's seen it and played it."
Musgrave will bring in a different set of ideas to the Redskins' offense. Musgrave has played and coached in West Coast offenses and Gibbs said he wanted someone from that offensive tradition in the meeting rooms with coaches.
"It was interesting--we put [Musgrave] in there in terms of pass protection and he showed us some of the things he had been doing," Gibbs said. "So you're bringing in new and different ideas and he has a good history of working with quarterbacks."
Musgrave, 37, was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator for the last two seasons and oversaw the development of Washington, D.C., native Byron Leftwich. As a rookie in 2003, Leftwich threw for 2,819 yards, the fourth-highest total by a rookie in NFL history.
Under Musgrave's watch last season, Leftwich continued his rise to the ranks of the league's best signal callers by throwing for 2,941 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Jacksonville finished 9-7 in 2004, a four-game improvement from Leftwich's rookie year.
It turns out Redskins coaches were borrowing from Musgrave even before the 2004 season came to an end.
In the season finale against Minnesota, Gibbs employed a downfield passing route that he later admitted to borrowing from the Jaguars' offense. The play was a 45-yard completion from Patrick Ramsey to Taylor Jacobs and nearly went for a touchdown. (Jacobs was stopped at the 1-yard line; Ladell Betts scored one play later.)
In working with Ramsey, Musgrave has positive first impressions of the fourth-year quarterback.
Ramsey was drafted one year ahead of Leftwich, so the two have similar levels of NFL experience. Musgrave realizes, however, that working with Ramsey will be different from coaching Leftwich because the two have dissimilar playing styles. Leftwich is more mobile while Ramsey has been more of a pocket passer
"They both have strong arms, but otherwise they're very different players," Musgrave said.
Several pocket passers have thrived under Musgrave. He was the quarterbacks coach in Carolina in 1999 when Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein passed for 4,436 yards, 36 touchdowns and made his only Pro Bowl appearance.
When Musgrave was the offensive coordinator at the University of Virginia during the 2001 and 2002 seasons, Cavaliers quarterback Matt Schaub (who now plays for the Atlanta Falcons and backs up Michael Vick) set several school passing records. Schaub threw a record 28 touchdown passes in 2002 on his way to winning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors.
A pocket passer must be able to take a few hits in order to succeed and Musgrave appreciates Ramsey's toughness.
"He is a talented fellow," Musgrave said of Ramsey. "He got knocked around his first couple years in the league. He kind of got indoctrinated. So I know he has a strong arm and some resiliency to him."
Musgrave is already familiar with backup quarterback Mark Brunell's abilities after the two spent the 2003 season together in Jacksonville. They also played in the Pac 10 Conference together in 1990 when Musgrave was at the University of Oregon and Brunell played for the University of Washington.
"Mark was one of the toughest quarterbacks in the whole NFL to defend when they had it rolling down there in Jacksonville," Musgrave said. "He had a good group around him, but when things broke down on the field, and he had to ad lib--that's when the fun began."
Gibbs has said that Patrick Ramsey will head into next season as the starting quarterback. Brunell is expected to be the backup, with Tim Hasselbeck likely serving as the third quarterback.
Musgrave said that he will begin imparting his knowledge on the Redskins' quarterbacks in meetings later this month.
"I think all of the quarterbacks are excited about having a year in this offense under their belt," Musgrave said. "It's always difficult for a new quarterback in learning a new offense."
Added Gibbs: "I think Bill is someone who can earn their confidence. He has played quarterback in this league. He has called plays in this league. Bill fits in well with us."
As an NFL backup, Musgrave learned from two of the game's greatest quarterbacks in Young and Elway and earned a Super Bowl ring with Young and the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. He believes that his NFL playing experience, particularly with legends such as Young and Elway, has contributed to his success as a coach.
"I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time in several situations in my playing career," Musgrave said. "It was great to be able to see how those guys approached practice and approached the game. They each prepared differently on Sunday morning and then on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It was good for me to see that there's more than one way to approach the game."