- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

The events of the last few days have reinforced the idea this is a professional football community crazy about any and all quarterback issues.

Receiver Antwaan Randle El was being interviewed Tuesday about the Washington Redskins’ season opener against Minnesota, his role in the offense and his debut on special teams. But then Todd Collins — he of no NFL starts since 1997 — entered the locker room, and like a tidal wave the horde gravitated toward Collins.

Minutes later, Jason Campbell — he of no NFL regular-season snaps — held court before a similar audience.

They can thank coach Joe Gibbs for the attention.

On Monday, Gibbs unveiled his back up quarterback plan: If Mark Brunell gets hurt during a game, Collins goes in; if Brunell can’t play a game because of injury, Campbell starts.

Gibbs’ decision to split the duties — or his non-decision to identify a true No.2 — caught both quarterbacks off guard.

“It’s a little bit unconventional, but it’s not going to affect my preparation at all,” Collins said.

Said Campbell: “It’s a situation where the coaches made a decision, and as a player, you keep a positive attitude about everything and keep on working.”

What they wanted to say: It’s not an ideal set of circumstances, but it beats getting a job outside football.

Collins signed with the Redskins in March hoping to be No.2. Although he was in Kansas City for eight seasons without starting a game and threw just 27 passes, he was lauded by Redskins associate head coach Al Saunders for his knowledge of the new passing offense. What that got him is, well, not a lot.

“I don’t know if it’s a disappointment, but, yeah, everybody wants to be the guy,” Collins said. “[Gibbs] had his reasons to go with the plan he made.”

That reason is Campbell, the former first-round pick from Auburn whom Gibbs wants to be the Quarterback of the Future. CEO Joe’s decision represents a major vote of confidence to Campbell.

“It shows the tremendous trust the coaching staff has in me,” Campbell said.

The only other situation that remotely resembles Gibbs’ plan came in Minnesota 12 years ago. Warren Moon was the starter, youngster Brad Johnson the backup and journeyman Sean Salisbury the No.3. In the second-to-last game, Moon was injured, and Johnson entered and went 14-for-29 for 104 yards. The Vikings needed to win their season finale to clinch a playoff spot, and Salisbury started, helping Minnesota beat San Francisco.

Flip the young-old roles, and that’s what the Redskins will face the first time Brunell strains a calf muscle, tweaks a hamstring or wrenches a knee.

“Todd is probably a little more ready to step in during the course of a game because of his experience and where he is,” Saunders said. “It’s really hard to bring somebody up to speed if they don’t have the background [in the system]. We’ll work with Jason during and after practice, and his technique will continue to get better and his understanding of the offense will get better.”

Several offensive starters were asked about the quarterback arrangement, and most predictably deflected such speculation. To one player, though, the decision to make Collins No.2 and Campbell No.2A was easy.

“It’s clear who has the advantage — who has the advantage now and who has the advantage long-term,” the starter said. “Todd knows more about Al’s offense than anybody [else] on this team. Everybody knows that Jason has talent — that’s not the issue. The issue is we’re starting the season Monday night, and if something happens to Mark, who knows the most if we need them? Todd. No offense to anybody, but that’s just the way it is.”

The way it could be down the road is fascinating. What happens if Collins subs for Brunell and leads the Redskins to a come-from-behind victory — would that be enough to earn him the start should Brunell not be ready the next week? What happens if Brunell is injured late in a practice week — would that be enough time to get Campbell ready or would Collins be the guy? What happens if Brunell gets hurt in a game, Collins fills in, Brunell is out the next week but the coaches feel that Campbell isn’t ready yet?

It was then that Collins acknowledged a forgotten fact.

“We’re dealing in hypotheticals because neither Jason nor I is starting Monday night,” he said.

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