- 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.”

Brunell has been a backup with Green Bay, Jacksonville and for half a season with the Redskins in 2004.

“You have to be ready,” he said. “The role changes, but the mind-set doesn’t change. It’s tougher as a backup because on any given play, you may be called upon to go in there, so you have to study. Your reps are really mental, but I’ll be ready.”

Meanwhile, Collins fell from No. 2 to No. 3 on the depth chart. Although he has been in associate head coach-offense Al Saunders’ system since 2001, his chances of playing this season are slim.

“Definitely disappointed but not entirely surprised,” Collins said. “When you have a young guy they’ve invested a lot in and have a lot of hopes for, you see it coming if a change is going to be made. I always held out hope [of starting if a change was made], but [with] the arrangement that came about at the beginning of the season, I figured this is what they had in mind.”

Campbell said Brunell and Collins have been supportive and he plans to lean on them leading up to Sunday.

“They understand that I’m at the beginning of my career and they’re toward the end of theirs, so they want to do everything they can to get me started off on the right foot,” Campbell said. “Mark has been messing with me all day trying to calm me down and relax.”

Said Brunell: “I know Jason will have a good day [Sunday]. The guys are going to step their games up, and I expect it to go well. In practice, the reps he has gotten, he’s thrown the ball well, gotten the ball downfield and made good decisions.”

Campbell conceded wanting to make a good first impression on the team’s veterans during preparation for the Buccaneers.

“Anytime you’re the quarterback, you want to make sure you’re doing all the right things on and off the field,” he said. “You want to study as much as you can so when you go out to the field, you make the right calls and throw the ball to the right places. It’s very important that guys see how you’re going to react.”

Saunders said he would change the game plan for Campbell but not necessarily limit the volume a veteran like Brunell was able to handle.

“Jason’s a different quarterback than Mark, so we’ll go in a different direction in some of the things we’ll do in all phases of the game,” Saunders said. “We’ll do the things we think he’s very strong in and play to his strengths as best as possible. … What we need to do as an offensive staff is make sure we’re allowing him the best way possible for him to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers.”

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