BALTIMORE — Jason Campbell and Steve McNair have been intertwined for years.
Both grew up in rural Mississippi — Campbell in Taylorsville (pop. 1,341), McNair in Mount Olive (pop. 893).
Both were first-round draft picks — Campbell in 2005 (No. 25), McNair in 1995 (No. 3).
And both waited to become their franchise"s quarterback — Campbell took over in Game 10 of his second season, McNair in Game 1 of his third season.
Campbell and McNair, the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens starting quarterbacks, shared the same field yesterday at steamy M&T Bank Stadium. In an otherwise dreadfully boring scrimmage, Campbell was limited to 7-on-7 passing drills and McNair completed all three of his passes in the 11-on-11 segment.
All through high school and college, Campbell admired McNair for the way he runs a team. If the Redskins can help him have the same rate of success, they're set at quarterback for the next decade.
McNair is in his 11th season as a starter. He was the face of the Houston/Tennessee franchise from 1997 to 2005 and remains a productive player for the Ravens at age 34.
Yesterday, Campbell completed his first week of training camp as the starter.
"His time is now and it's well-deserved," McNair said. "That's what a lot of the younger guys are doing — they want to look up to guys who have been through rough times and good times. I've tried to help him out through high school and college and knowing him and how productive he's going to be, he's going to be impressive."
The fact that Campbell had to wait for his time will only benefit him, according to McNair.
Drafted out of Division I-AA Alcorn State, McNair started two games as a rookie and four games as a second-year player before assuming the starting duties. Campbell did not play a single snap until being named the starter last November.
"It helps [to watch] because this game is mostly mental," McNair said. "It's not as much about skill and athleticism. It's about knowing the game, knowing where to go with the football and knowing the speed of the game. Sitting out and watching and learning from the other guy's mistakes and good plays means that when you do go in all of a sudden, you can focus on making plays and executing and not anything else."
McNair's message to Campbell has been relatively simple: Don't force things, trust your teammates and always stay composed.
Campbell still has a little gun-slinger in him so he'll force the ball on occasion, but the result will sometimes be a big play. He's certainly won over his offensive teammates. And he has been cool under all kinds of pressure thrown his way.
"[McNair] always tells me to stay confident no matter what," Campbell said. "But the main thing he tells me is to play the game to have fun and play it the same way I always have."
Campbell's first nine days of training camp probably merit a B-plus. His first two practices were rough when he appeared to get the rust out. Over the last several days, he has occasionally shined and usually avoided throwing interceptions. It's clear he likes going downfield and particularly the deep middle. Last week, he found tight end Chris Cooley several times between the safeties and yesterday, he threw a 40-yard touchdown to James Thrash, who had gotten behind both Baltimore safeties.
But Redskins fans watching shouldn't be disappointed by the amount of dump-offs and shallow crossing patterns run against Baltimore. The Ravens played primarily zone in the 7-on-7 drills, forcing Campbell to avoid the deep ball in favor of throwing to the running backs in the flat.
All of that is part of the lessons McNair has talked to Campbell about over the years. When the guy talking has four Pro Bowl selections, 147 starts, 172 touchdowns and a Super Bowl appearance, the young guy is supposed to listen.
"I tell him everything is mental," McNair said. "He has to let the game come to him this year and he has to involve his teammates in everything he does because those are the guys who will make him or break him."