- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

About 75 minutes after the Washington Redskins’ loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Joe Gibbs welcomed Jason Campbell into his dressing room/office at FedEx Field for a quick chat.

Campbell had thrown two costly interceptions and committed a few other young-player gaffes in the first true hiccup of his short career as the Redskins’ starting quarterback.

Gibbs didn’t know what he would encounter, a depressed or matter-of-fact player. To his delight, he got the latter.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to see him shook up and down on himself,” Gibbs said. “But he was great.”

The two quickly reviewed the game, which included a 14-0 Redskins lead that turned into a 24-14 defeat.

“It shows how much he cares, and it shows how important it is to him that I stay positive,” Campbell said.

That Campbell was handling the setback with poise instead of a woe-is-me attitude represented another example to Gibbs that he made the right decision when he promoted Campbell from third string to starter three weeks ago.

In three starts, Campbell is 48-for-95 for 531 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions and a 71.9 passer rating.

Beyond the numbers — the first three weeks of the Campbell Experiment features a 1-2 record — he has won over his coaches, chiefly Gibbs and associate head coach-offense Al Saunders.

“He’s going to be picking up knowledge as he goes,” Gibbs said. “He’s on track.”

Before Campbell, Saunders hadn’t worked with a young quarterback since Mark Vlasic played two games for San Diego 18 years ago. Like Gibbs, Saunders didn’t know what to expect.

“I love it,” Saunders said. “It’s a great thing because he has talent, he has a great temperament for the game and I’ve really enjoyed watching his development because he’s made progress.

“It has created different challenges because I have to go in a different direction during the week to find a strategy and a plan for what will work best for Jason. There is so much on his plate right now. You have to make sure he’s not overwhelmed and the things you do want him to do, he can do it at a high level.”

Gibbs and Saunders both have a huge stake in seeing Campbell play well. He is Gibbs’ hand-picked quarterback of the future. Saunders calls the plays, and it’s up to him to make sure Campbell is comfortable running the massive playbook.

The coaches like that Campbell never gets rattled and always learns from a situation, be it positive or negative.

They also like his ability to scramble for yards, willingness to stand tall in the pocket and his command of the huddle.

“If you have those qualities as a quarterback, you have a chance to get better,” Saunders said. “The physical skills, the decision making, the anticipation, the managing of his throws — he’ll get better at all of those. He has great upside.”

Once the decision was announced, all the important parties went to work. Saunders scaled down some of his elaborate schemes so Campbell could get comfortable. Gibbs chatted often with Campbell to make sure he knew the coaching staff had confidence in him. And Campbell began studying like a starter.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be more days like the Atlanta game — 18-for-38 for 217 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

“We’ve made the decision to go with a young quarterback, and he’ll have the growing pains,” Saunders said. “How he comes back from [the Atlanta] game will be a real indicator because when he watches this film, he’ll be disappointed, but I think also encouraged by some of the things he did.”

Said Campbell: “I try to take something from each game and from each situation. A lot of things came out of that game that will help me in the future. When we were in the no-sack zone inside the 30 and I was trying to get the ball out of my hands to keep us in field goal range, I should have taken the sack.”

Instead, Campbell threw an interception. The next time around, he will remember it was only second down and they could have used third down to get back into field goal range. Instead, the Falcons scored the go-ahead touchdown.

The final quarter of the season will set the table for 2007. Over the next four games, Campbell will get almost 300 snaps of experience that, if the Redskins had started the season better, he might not have gotten.

“He’s very fortunate to get this kind of experience at this time of his career. It’s huge for him,” Saunders said. “We’re hopeful that it will bode well for him. The thing you can’t duplicate in practice is the speed of the game and the speed your decision has to be made and how small the margin for error is.”

Note — Redskins running back Clinton Portis had arthroscopic surgery yesterday in Reston to repair a labrum tear in his left shoulder. The outpatient procedure was performed by Dr. Ray Thal. Director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer said Portis — who originally injured his shoulder at Cincinnati on Aug. 13 — will be in a sling for about three weeks and then begin a six-month rehabilitation program. In the last several years, Derrick Dockery, Casey Rabach, Chris Samuels, Lemar Marshall and former running back Stephen Davis have had labrum surgery. Tyer said Portis’ broken right hand has healed properly.

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