Saying that Richard Bartel is the forgotten man of the Redskins is not entirely accurate — becoming a forgotten man requires that people be aware of your existence in the first place. Bartel was signed the day before Thanksgiving last year to zero fanfare and even less notice. I tweeted about it, then mentioned the tweet in a bullet point on a short blog post on Black Friday. Not exactly a warm Redskins Blog welcome. I don’t think anyone came out and said it, but I’m guessing that at the time, most fans expected Bartel to be summarily dropped as soon as fan-favorite QB Colt Brennan came off Injured Reserve.
But that didn’t happen. And Bartel also stuck around after the new coaching staff arrived. And after the draft, and after the undrafted free agent tryout period, and through mini-camps and OTAs, and now it certainly looks like he’ll be here for training camp — a training camp, it should be noted, where head coach Mike Shanahan has been talking up the importance of competition.
So it seemed like it was finally time to catch up with Bartel and ask him, point blank, who he is.
“Yeah, you’re probably not the only one wondering that,” he says. “Everybody else probably has no clue who I am either. Dude, I’m just a guy from Texas, a small-school guy who’s trying to make it.”
Even as he tries to make it, though, Bartel doesn’t mind the anonymity. “I like being the guy that nobody knows or really cares about,” he says. “Let all the pressure be on the people who are ‘supposed’ to be here, that’s fine.”
This seems counter-intuitive. It certainly seems like exposure should mean EVERYTHING to a young, largely unknown quarterback, and like anonymity would be the kiss of death.
“I guess it is to a lot of people,” Bartel says. “To me it’s where I’ve always thrived. I mean I went to SMU, it’s a small mid-major, and then I went down to Tarleton and I’m sure anybody reading a blog, if you read about a guy from D-2 who’s in the NFL, you’d assume that he sucks. And I love that. There’s no expectation level, you’ve got nowhere to go but up.”
Bartel’s NFL résumé implies ‘journeyman’ — stints on the practice squads of the Cowboys, Browns and Jaguars bookending an appearance on the Browns’ 53-man roster — but he maintains that each move has taken him a bit closer to appearing the NFL and that the transaction line might not tell all the details.
“Cleveland wanted to keep me on their practice squad and I felt like leaving would be better for me,” he says. “And then Jacksonville wanted to bring me on their active roster and I felt like leaving would be better for me. From the outside looking in, it looks like, you know, ‘cut,cut,cut’, when really I’ve kinda made my own moves there.”
The latest move has brought him to Washington, where he has no idea how successful he’s actually been at competing for any spot — “Coach Shanahan’s really kept things close to his chest,” Bartel says.
Because he wasn’t on the roster for training camp or the preseason last year, most Redskins fans have never even seen Bartel throw a pass, so I ask him what other QB — or type of QB — he might compare himself to.
“You know ,” he says, “I hate the title ‘game manager’ because for whatever reason it comes with negative connotation, it seems like those kind of guys are labeled ‘check-down guys’ and I don’t feel like I’m that guy, but I feel like I’m a guy who can manage a game from a quarterback standpoint. Put us in the right situations and then take the shot when it’s there, you know.”
Part of that, though, is because it’s what Bartel believes his role on the team demands.
“I wanna play to win and I don’t have the mentality to play not to lose, but I also know that for someone in a position like myself or like Colt [Brennan], there’s expectations for you, and when you get to be Donovan [McNabb] there’s different expectations for you. So, somebody like us, if we were to enter a game situation, I realize the the goal would be to run the offense, to run it efficiently, be trustworthy of the coaching staff, to know that they can give me whatever play and I can execute it and not lose the game. So there’s differences in where I feel that I can play at, the level I know I can play at and then the expectations of what would be asked of me if I were to step into a game today.”
That kind of lowered expectations Bartel understands completely. The other kind, the kind where fans speculating about the roster completely dismiss his chances, write him off as a small-school journeyman who’ll never make a dent … those kind of lowered expectations actually spur him on.
“I know this is a cliché,” he says, “but clichés are clichés for a reason, right? I really take motivation in knowing that absolutely nobody expects me to do jack, everybody thinks that I’m just gonna get cut in August and I’m gonna move on to another team or be out of the NFL. Believe it or not, on a day-to-day basis I think about that and it really, really motivates me. It makes me feel happy, which may be weird. But it’s the truth. And I’m not dumb. I know some people don’t even expect me to get to training camp. That’s all right too.”
So now you know Richard Bartel. And you know that he would probably rather you forget everything you just read, just to motivate him further.
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