JUDGE: Banks deserves another shot

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Clark Judge

In the past week-and-a-half, there's been a run on free-agent quarterbacks, with Gus Frerotte, Jeff Blake and Shane Matthews finding work for the upcoming season. Considering the talent pool that's out there, I guess those moves are understandable. What I can't figure out, though, is that if people like Frerotte, Blake and Matthews are passing the auditions how come we never hear about Tony Banks? Yeah, that Tony Banks, and don't tell me about his drawbacks. I've watched him play. I've seen him fumble. I've heard coaches groan. He played himself out of St. Louis, Baltimore and Dallas before landing in Washington last season, and after only a year he's on the loose again. I know all that. What I don't know is how come nobody wants him, and what I'd like to find out is why someone like Matthews can find a job, and Banks can't? "His history gets him," said an NFC pro personnel director. "He turns the ball over too much and finds ways to get you beat." OK, fine, let's look at what happened last year. Banks started 14 games for Washington and was a respectable 8-6. But he was 8-3 over his last 11 games, and only Kurt Warner, Kordell Stewart, Tom Brady and Jim Miller were better over that stretch. He committed 10 fumbles, which seems like a lot until you check in again with his colleagues. Banks' total was fewer than Kerry Collins (23), Brett Favre (16), Daunte Culpepper (16), Aaron Brooks (13), Rich Gannon (13), Jon Kitna (13), Vinny Testaverde (12), Trent Green (11), Chris Weinke (11), Brady (12) and Stewart (11). He completed over 50 percent of his passes, didn't throw more interceptions than touchdowns and averaged 6.45 yards per attempt — more than Kitna; more than Weinke; more than Miller; more than Testaverde; more than Brian Griese, for cripe's sake. So where does that get him? Well, you tell me. I haven't seen his name among the league transactions, and I don't hear his name mentioned with any of those quarterbacks that clubs might be interested in as backups. "I find that strange," said San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer, who coached Banks last year in Washington. "I think maybe one of the things Tony fights is the reputation from early in his career that he was kind of cavalier about football and a little lackadaisical. But he competed in every practice and every game for us and did an outstanding job in a tough situation. "We were a team that was bouncing off the walls early in the year, and we threw him in there with no experience — and I mean absolutely zero — in the offense that we used. Brian (Schottenheimer, Washington's quarterbacks coach last year) coached him and said he did all the things that were important as far as winning, and it showed in games. Sometimes his accuracy would get away from him, but he gave us leadership ... and when he'd get hot he could hit every throw." In Washington's first victory, a come-from-behind 17-14 decision over Carolina, Banks threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to rookie Rod Gardner late in the fourth quarter to tie the score. Then, in overtime, he hit passes of 32 and 47 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. A week later, he was at it again, this time launching a 76-yard scoring pass to Michael Westbrook midway through the fourth period to clinch the Redskins' 35-21 upset of the New York Giants. That was the second of five straight wins as the woebegone Redskins — losers of their first five — somehow climbed back into the NFC East race. "One of the things I talked to him about and one of the things that I tell other athletes," Schottenheimer said, "is that when a play is over give it up. I'd tell him, 'It doesn't matter what happened; you can't do it over.' And I think he embraced that philosophy. "In the New Orleans game, he threw an interception early, and we were down 10-0. But he battled back, played well and we won. And that was the one area where I thought he made the greatest improvement; he stopped beating himself up when he made a mistake." The Redskins beat the Saints easily, 40-10. Banks didn't throw a touchdown pass that day; in fact, he barely threw at all, with only 15 attempts. But that's not the point. He quarterbacked the winning team, ran for a touchdown and didn't make fatal mistakes — something he watched then-teammate Trent Dilfer accomplish to near perfection the preceding year in Baltimore. I understand why teams are suspicious of Banks. I would be, too. But I'd also roll the videotape from last year when he and the Redskins were one of the game's great overachievers. Banks isn't as bad as you think; and he's a lot better than some of these stiffs passing for backup quarterbacks. The good news is that Schottenheimer already has heard from a couple of clubs intrigued by Banks; the bad news is that guys like Matthews and Danny Wuerffel have jobs in Washington, while Banks does not. I don't get it. "This is what happens with quarterbacks," said Schottenheimer. "If someone doesn't find one in the draft they see what they can find on the grapevine, and sometimes some of these guys get forgotten. That won't happen here. I don't have any doubt whatsoever that Tony Banks will get a job." Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address:
Tagged: Bears, Bengals, Cowboys, Broncos, Packers, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Redskins, Panthers, Steelers, Shane Matthews, Jim Miller, Jon Kitna, Tony Banks, Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper, Tom Brady, Jeff Blake, Aaron Brooks, Kerry Collins, Kordell Stewart

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