Ragone readies for reps

NFL Europe coaches have three weeks to put together a team, starting virtually from scratch.

They hope the players fit their systems, avoid injuries and keep morale high, but none of them believes he can win without a quarterback.

"You need a guy who won't lose you games," Amsterdam's Bart Andrus said. Andrus was at Rhein when Danny Wuerffel took them to the World Bowl.

"His arm wasn't the strongest," Andrus said, "but he understood the system, he didn't make mistakes, avoided sacks and turnovers, and always gave us a chance to win."

Cologne's Peter Vaas won two World Bowls with Berlin; both times his teams overcame slow starts. Part of that was getting first Jonathan Quinn and then Todd Husak comfortable with the system.

"Once they started to click, we started to win," he said.

Sometimes they come out of nowhere. Jon Kitna was an unknown in camp with Barcelona's World Bowl winners in 1997.

"As soon as we got to Spain, he took over," Jack Bicknell said. "He was a leader, and he made plays when we needed them."

Leadership might be the most prized ability of all. Sam Rutligiano, the former Browns head coach working with Hamburg's offense, thinks that for all of Rohan Davey's physical skills -- evident from the start in the 2004 training camp -- it was his confidence that was the key to Berlin's World Bowl season.

"The kid took over the team and made it his," Rutligiano said. "It makes the other guys better."

Who will step forward this season? As usual, NFLE QBs are a mixed bag of prospects, suspects and retreads. No one jumps out as head and shoulders above the rest, the way Davey did last year. And every year, what happens once the teams arrive in Europe is more difficult to predict.

The biggest name is Frankfurt's Akili Smith, trying to jumpstart a stalled NFL career. He has got the physical skills, but his decision-making always has been suspect.

Whether Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden and Paul Hackett saw anything in the training camp to change that impression is doubtful. But when Frankfurt coach Mike Jones and offensive coordinator Whitey Jordan were at Rhein, they reached the World Bowl with Tee Martin under center. Martin, who won games Peyton Manning couldn't in college, has disappointed as a pro. Smith might remind Galaxy fans of Michael Bishop, whose season in Frankfurt was a boom-or-bust combination of spectacular plays and bonehead turnovers.

Many of the scouts thought Berlin's Dave Ragone (Houston) the league's best, though his scrimmages also were uneven. He's a big, strong gamer whose passes sometimes go awry. His situation is much like Davey's was with the Patriots, according to Texans director of pro scouting Chuck Banker.

"He hasn't played quality minutes in a long time, and needs the reps," Banker said. "A good performance would solidify him as our No. 2."

The other teams had tight competition for jobs. At Rhein, Scott McBride (Packers) appeared to have the edge over Andy Hall. McBrien is the smaller of the two, but makes plays, has pretty good zip and can move in the pocket. But he's barely 6 feet tall, and throws with a three-quarters motion, which worries scouts. Back in Green Bay, his competition includes former Europe standouts Craig Nall and J.T. O'Sullivan.

Hall is bigger (6-2, 220), has a decent arm and can run. Nall, whose selection by Philadelphia was a surprise, is constantly compared to Rich Gannon, not unfairly.

In Hamburg, Bicknell appears to give Casey Bramlett (Bengals) -- who's got the bigger arm -- a slight edge over Ryan Dinwiddie (Bears), but if their line doesn't jell, Dinwiddie's mobility could be an advantage. Both had some moments in camp, but they'll need time to make plays.

The Admirals chose Gibran Hamden (Seahawks), once Steve Spurrier's next project with the Washington Redskins, over Kurt Kittner (Bears), once an NFL starter who was on four different rosters last year. Hamden, who was Amsterdam's backup last year, is more mobile and knows the system, but gets off-target with his throws. Kittner seems frail, but has surprising arm strength; he's another guy whose lack of mobility could be a problem.

Cologne's likely starter will be Chris Lewis (Cardinals), who looked athletic but often seemed to have problems getting the ball to the right place. One of the camp's biggest surprises was the successful return of Kevin Thompson (Bills), a backup at Frankfurt in 2001. Thompson is a classic pocket passer who reminded some of Quinn in Vaas' system, though without Quinn's arm strength.

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