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Staying on sideline would be best plan

- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

His blindside protector will be the rusty Chris Samuels, five weeks removed from spraining his medial collateral ligament.

His blindside competition will be future Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, he of 106 career sacks.

His left guard will be the still new-at-the-position Todd Wade or stopgap Mike Pucillo.

And his left knee still will be the one that took a dangerous shot against Pittsburgh three weeks earlier.

That's what faces Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell in the Sept. 9 season opener against the Miami Dolphins.

Even though the Redskins' optimistic attitude Saturday night was confirmed yesterday morning when an MRI revealed no structural damage and only a left bruised knee, there's no reason Campbell should play Saturday against Baltimore or even Aug. 30 at Jacksonville.

If it's a bone bruise, the recovery time is tricky. And although the Redskins should be confident their quarterback of the present and future will be OK, the entire situation is dicey.

The Ravens and Jaguars finished 1-2 last year in fewest yards allowed.

That's why not playing Campbell until the season opener — even if he returns to practice later this week or early next week — could be the best option.

"Our medical team will make a good decision," coach Joe Gibbs said last night. "They've seen a bunch of these injuries, and Jason has a really good feel for it. If he's sore, he won't be out there. I think we'll see how it goes and play it out through the week."

Campbell, who once missed two weeks at Auburn because of a sprained knee, said, "This [injury] isn't anything like that."

But in a preseason in which the Redskins have been cautious with Clinton Portis' knee, allowing him ample time to recover, they should do the same with Campbell.

That means Todd Collins should start against Baltimore. That means if Campbell starts at Jacksonville, he should play one series, two tops.

The way he played in a quarter-and-a-half against Pittsburgh showed he's ready for the regular season; he is 12-for-22 for 179 yards in the preseason. On Saturday, Campbell was able to find Chris Cooley for gains of 14 and 29 yards.

"We have to work on finishing off some drives, but we made a big jump from the first game to the second game," Campbell said.

Campbell has worked with Cooley plenty. Wideout Santana Moss has missed little practice time, allowing him to find a groove with Campbell. An offseason spent with his nose in the playbook means the quarterback knows the nuances of the system.

The good news for the Redskins, of course, is that using caution with Campbell is an option.

Campbell is just the latest disaster the Redskins have narrowly averted during training camp. If their knees were hit at slightly different angle, the seasons of Samuels and Campbell would be over, and the Redskins would be looking at an extremely long fall.

The likely absence of Campbell this week will give Gibbs and Al Saunders a chance to settle the No. 2 quarterback race. Right now it's a runaway. Performance should win out over loyalty, giving Collins (15-for-18 for 130 yards, one touchdown and 115.3 passer rating) the obvious edge over Mark Brunell (9-for-21 for 102 yards, one interception, 38.2 passer rating).

"Todd's been very impressive," Gibbs said. "In both games, when he's had opportunities, he's done a really good job. He has great composure, he gets the ball out of his hands quickly and the rush doesn't bother him."

Just as quickly, Gibbs praised Brunell for his two-minute drive in Saturday's fourth quarter even though it included an inexcusable delay of game penalty and ended with an interception.

Halfway through the preseason, the Redskins are 1-1 and have issues with pass protection and the running game. But they still have their starting quarterback, and their retooled defense appears improved, meaning they have absolutely nothing to complain about. And they know it.