ASHBURN—Two of the most successful college quarterbacks in recent years ran onto the field on a steamy Saturday morning at Redskins Park, eager to impress the fans who have been screaming for their autographs during the first week of training camp.
They didn't get much of a chance. For the next 2 hours, 20 minutes, Colt Brennan and Chase Daniel spent a lot of time standing and watching. During the lengthy team drills at the end of practice, Daniel took all of three snaps. Brennan got maybe a dozen.
"It's definitely a big adjustment," Daniel said. "I know that I've got to get ready for those three plays. Those three plays could mean my career."
If nothing else, the Washington Redskins lead the league in high-profile, down-the-depth-chart quarterbacks. In 2007, Brennan finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, one place ahead of Daniel. They shattered records and piled up victories. Brennan led Hawaii to an undefeated regular season. Daniel led Missouri to the Big 12's North Division title in 2007 and 2008 and left the school with a 30-11 record as a starter.
Now they are Nos. 3 and 4 in the Redskins QB pecking order, behind starter Jason Campbell and veteran backup Todd Collins. They are crowd favorites because of what they did in college, and in Brennan's case, because of his decent performance in mop-up situations during preseason a year ago.
But they have learned that universal popularity and big NCAA numbers aren't enough to ensure playing time, or even a roster spot, in the NFL.
"Remember, the reason they're here is that they dominated when they were in college. That doesn't mean they're going to dominate here," said coach Jim Zorn, himself a former quarterback. "And they can see it. I think it's the most frustrating thing. I hear them mentally asking that question, 'What is wrong with me?' And a lot of that is just getting to know what the expectations are, then working them into their game."
Brennan and Daniel were always going to be a tough sell in the NFL. They had reputations as "system quarterbacks" -- players who supposedly succeeded because they happened to be plugged into unique, high-powered college offenses that didn't translate well to the pros. Brennan was a sixth-round draft pick by the Redskins last year, while Daniel went undrafted this year and was signed as a free agent.
"Chase had an unbelievable career, and I had one, too," Brennan said. "We were both laughing because we always tell stories about when we were at the Heisman together, and now we're fighting for reps."
Brennan sent Redskins fans into a frenzy last year when he completed 68 percent of his passes during the preseason, but Zorn was quick to point out that those numbers came against backup defenses. After a 9-for-10 game, Brennan said he was told by an assistant coach that his performance was "pretty horrible when it came to technique."
A year later, Brennan has a better understanding of what Zorn wants.
"With Colt, this year his footwork has gotten so much better and he's feeling more comfortable," Zorn said. "And Chase is at that same place, where I'm not even talking about his throw as much as I'm talking about what he's doing with his feet. So he's frustrated. But he's got a great attitude. He actually has a pretty good ball when it comes out."
Daniel made some nice throws early in Saturday's practice, but Zorn was almost always there to offer some sort of critique afterward. Daniel also has to battle his height -- he's only 6 feet tall. At one point, he walked over to speak to former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who is the same height.
"He was saying 'Us short guys, we can make it. We've just got to try harder. We've got to find lanes to throw to,'" Daniel said. "He did it. I feel like I can do it."
Brennan and Daniel have remained good friends since their Heisman-contender seasons and hang out together after practice. One difference: Daniel is big on Twitter. "About to start the journey of my life" he wrote on the eve of camp.
The journey could have a rough ending. Barring injury, Daniel's chances of making the roster seem remote. Campbell and Collins aren't going anywhere, and he's a year behind Brennan in learning the offense. Zorn said Saturday he's not going to keep four quarterbacks on the main roster, although there's a small chance Daniel could earn a spot on the practice squad.
The upcoming preseason games could change the coaches' minds, though.
"I've got to go out there and take every snap like it's my last," Daniel said. "Not only to prove people wrong, but just to prove I can play in this league. I'm a work in progress, but I'm going to learn. I'm a sponge. I'm going to take in as much information as I can and take it to the football field."
Saturday morning's practice was the first in full pads. Several players, including T Mike Williams, were treated for dehydration. ... FB Eddie Williams sat out with a hamstring injury, and CB Carlos Rogers missed part of the workout after tweaking a leg muscle.