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Tonight is key for Campbell
Show next to nothing of the play book. Allow the starters to break a sweat before putting in the reserves. Hold the belief that when the real games start, things would automatically fall into place.
For three years, that was the Washington Redskins' preseason philosophy. Last August, it didn't work — an 0-4 record with no touchdowns by the starting offense and a slew of struggles by the defense. It was a precursor to a fall into the NFC East cellar.
As the Redskins open this year's preseason tonight at the Tennessee Titans, the thinking has shifted.
Coach Joe Gibbs: "What we would like to do is be different than last year. ... In general this preseason, we would like to think we're more prepared and be willing strategy-wise to do more stuff."
Play-caller Al Saunders: "We'll ask [quarterback Jason Campbell] to do a little more than we normally would do with a quarterback that's been in the same system for a long time."
Center Casey Rabach: "With the lackluster performance we had last year, we want to get off to a fast start this year, so the preseason will be important."
Translation: This isn't a typical plain-as-vanilla preseason made famous by Gibbs for years.
The games don't count, but there is much to be gained by the front-line players, particularly by Campbell and a defense that has as many as four new starters.
Campbell could play the entire first quarter tonight. Even though he won't have left tackle Chris Samuels and running back Clinton Portis joining him, the theory from the Redskins' camp is that after five months of practice field work, it's important for Campbell to see his progress.
"I'm excited to watch him because I'm really proud of where he is and really happy with how much he's improved," Saunders said. "What he has to do is carry over what he's done in practice and show everybody what he's shown us."
Saunders and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor will be concentrating on the following with Campbell: mechanics and decision making.
"Those two things will really give us an evaluation of where he is," Saunders said. "Right now, without question, he has improved dramatically in all phases of the game."
Said Lazor: "From last year to this year, no question, his tempo has picked up. The first day we started working in the spring, the first thing we dealt with was quick drops and quickness getting the ball out of his hands."
During those spring and early summer days, it was just Campbell, Lazor and a few receivers standing still. Campbell would take a five- or seven-step drop and throw a pass as short as 15 yards. Some days would start with play-action practice, making sure Campbell improved selling the fake.
To his benefit, what Campbell didn't have to work on this offseason was learning a new system, a first for him in college or the NFL. That left him more time to be on the field and in Lazor's office watching himself play during the final seven weeks of 2006.
"[The preseason] is important because we are a timing and rhythm team offensively and a lot of the things we do depend on timing," Campbell said. "It's something we really want to accomplish this preseason."
As expected, Gibbs wouldn't put a number on how long Campbell would play.
In the last three preseason openers, the Redskins' starting quarterback has played an average of 16 snaps and attempted an average of 9.7 passes. Two years ago, Patrick Ramsey played the most snaps (23) and threw the most passes (12).
"If he gets two snaps or 42 snaps, I'm excited to watch him and then evaluate it and see how far he's come," Lazor said. "He's done a lot of work during the spring, the mini-camp, the [organized team activities] and training camp and this is his first chance to apply it in a game."
Aside from Campbell, tonight is the first chance for new left guard Todd Wade to gauge his progress after playing tackle his entire NFL career and on defense and the Redskins debuts of middle linebacker London Fletcher and rookie safety LaRon Landry.
"We plan on giving them a good test," Gibbs said. "How long [the starters] will play depends on what happens. It will be interesting to see who does what."
Note —Portis is making the trip to Tennessee but not playing. Five other players — cornerback Jerametrius Butler (hamstring), tight end Tyler Ecker (groin), receiver Brandon Lloyd (shin splints), defensive tackle Vaka Manupuna (quad) and left tackle Chris Samuels (knee) — will miss the game and not travel.
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