He openly admits he is not, hasn't been for awhile and never will be again the kind of quarterback he was in 1996. Yet, Mark Brunell continues to be dogged by the fans' expectations that he should run wildly all over the field, leaving a trail of fallen defenders, as he did during a dramatic 29-yard scramble in Denver in '96. That run is Jaguars fans' lasting image of Brunell.
"Why doesn't he run anymore?" Brunell asked of the fans' favorite question.
"It was exciting and entertaining, but it just doesn't work. Why would I run around with the football if I could dump it to Fred (Taylor)? If I run around like I did in '96 and '95, this would be my last year," Brunell added.
There it is; the plain and simple truth. He's not 25 years old any longer. He's not a young quarterback with more spark in his legs than in his head. Brunell is no longer restricted to running with the football as a last resort. These days, as he prepares to turn 30 this September, Brunell knows how to play the game as a true professional quarterback should, which is to say he knows how to play the game without getting killed.
"Last year was a good example of what I'd like to maintain. There wasn't a lot of moving around, but when there was, it was very successful. Stay in the pocket, deliver the throw, and be smart; getting to the checks, handling the two-minute drill," Brunell said of the way he wants to play, must play the position in the prime years of his football-playing life.
This is not a "new" Brunell. He's been this way since a preseason knee injury threatened to end his 1997 season before it began. It's just that, maybe, for the first time, fans are receptive, resigned, to the fact that it has to be this way. He is Brunell the pocket-passer, not Brunell the scrambler.
"I've grown up a lot; much more experienced. I manage the game and the team differently than I did early on. I can't run around like I did in '96. I'm not even close, but I'm a better passer," Brunell said.
The proof is in the statistics. In '96, Brunell threw 20 interceptions against 19 touchdown passes. Since then, Brunell has thrown 72 touchdown passes vs. 39 interceptions.
He heads into the 2001 season in the prime of his career. He's coming off an injury-free season and he's armed with a new contract that eliminates any thought from his mind but football. Life has never been better for Brunell.
"I can not see myself anywhere else. I feel like there's work that has to be done here," he said. "We've had some really great moments, but some real tough moments, too. When you don't get to the Super Bowl and win, they're all disappointing (seasons). Until you get to that point, you're not satisfied."
Getting to the Super Bowl this season will be more difficult than was predicted in recent seasons. The Jaguars are a longshot to make the big game. They will need some of the '96 magic Brunell provided, but it'll have to come from his arm and his command of the game, and not from his legs and their previous reputation for turning sacks into big-gainers.
"I'm very optimistic because the core guys stayed together. We realized we were going to lose some players, but we kept a lot of guys. We still have as much talent as we had last year. Our first 11 guys on offense; we're going to be really solid," Brunell said.
At his command, Brunell will have an offense that features one of the two-best big-play running backs in the game. Brunell will hand the ball to Taylor, throw it to Taylor, fake it to Taylor and dump the ball where the defense isn't expecting.
If Jimmy Smith recovers completely from abdominal surgery, Brunell will have his "old" wide receiver corps, but with veteran Sean Dawkins added to the mix. And last season Brunell found tight end Kyle Brady for 60 completions.
In front of Brunell is an offensive line that needs some tweaking on the right side, but if and when that's completed, Brunell could find himself at the helm of an offense like no other in the league. It could happen, and if it does, it will happen at the absolute peak of the "new" Brunell's career.
"I could do this for many more years. The body feels good," he said.
Staying in the pocket will do that for a quarterback.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.