- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

Standing in the middle of the Washington Redskins locker room last week and nibbling on a handful of Chipotle tortilla chips, Jason Campbell laughed when told he was moving up in the world … from scout team to relieving banged-up Mark Brunell in practice.

Who knew then that yesterday afternoon’s development at Redskin Park would be possible: Campbell conducting his first major press conference as the team’s quarterback of the present and possibly the future. Instead of being just another guy, Campbell is now The Guy.

“It’s a bit different,” he said. “But I’ve learned a lot by watching.”

An hour later, the watching officially ended — after 27 regular season and playoff games and dozens of workouts — when Campbell led the first team through a two-hour practice, the Redskins’ first since coach Joe Gibbs promoted him Monday.

Campbell, the team’s second first-round selection in the 2005 draft, will make his NFL debut Sunday at Tampa Bay. He’ll do so without running back Clinton Portis, who was placed on injury reserve yesterday with hand and shoulder injuries.

“We’re off to a start here,” Gibbs said. “Hopefully, everybody will go hard and support Jason. It’s a tough situation when you’re a young guy and you have two older guys [as backups]. All of a sudden, he takes on a different role and the dynamics change.

“The way he handled everything today, he’s a real pro. He looked good.”

Before practice, the two veteran quarterbacks, Brunell and Todd Collins, discussed Gibbs’ decision.

Brunell said he was “disappointed but not shocked” when Gibbs told him he was being benched for the second time in three seasons.

“I feel like I have a big target on my chest right now, but I’m not saying I’ve been made the scapegoat,” he said. “We’re 3-6 and when the offense isn’t producing, the person that naturally gets the blame is the quarterback. That’s this business. Fair or not, that’s the way it is.”

When he was replaced midway through a 17-10 loss to Cincinnati on Nov. 14, 2004, it was justified and overdue; Brunell departed with a dreadful 49.8 passer rating. This season he has an 86.5 rating, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. But the passing game has been impotent, forcing Gibbs’ hand.

“I can think of some plays I would like to have back, but for the most part I feel pretty good about the way I played,” Brunell said. “But it certainly could have been better. We just didn’t win enough games.

“It’s tough because you work hard. We’ve been working since March and to not get to finish this [season] out, it’s tough. This is what we do for a living — compete and try to win football games — and to now not have that opportunity, it’s pretty difficult. Football is a great game but a horrible business.”

Brunell, 36, would not speculate on his future. He has a large salary cap number (more than $6.5 million for 2007), so if he’s willing to stay as the backup to Campbell or another starter, a pay cut will be required.

“My future isn’t important right now,” Brunell said. “What’s important right now for me is my new role and to be ready to go in. Those things will be talked about after the season. It doesn’t help our team and the situation to talk about what happens after this year.”

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