- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Washington Redskins traded away three picks in the 2005 draft to select quarterback Jason Campbell, now in his third season and entrenched as the starter.

Campbell just passed a milestone — he completed his 16th start — and after a year on the job it’s plain that not only was the trade worth it, but sending starter Patrick Ramsey packing and benching veteran Mark Brunell to clear the way made sense, too.

Campbell arrived in the District with a prototypical 6-foot-5, 230-pound body and a strong arm. He had won at Auburn and at Taylorsville (Miss.) High School.

That alone doesn’t mean much, of course.

Heath Shuler also won in high school and college, and by his second season with the Redskins he was considered a bust. Ramsey also had a great arm, and the Redskins clearly didn’t regard him as the long-term answer at quarterback.

There were questions about Campbell, too — mostly about his mental fitness.

Could he learn a complicated offense — or two, as it turned out — after changing systems each year at Auburn? Could he overcome his mellow nature to be an assertive leader of men? Could he master the nuances of playing the position against the game’s most sophisticated defenses?

Not many young quarterbacks — only four, in fact — have played as many games for the Redskins as has Campbell in the three decades since CFL-trained Joe Theismann first took the field as an NFL starter in Washington.

Jay Schroeder, pressed into the lineup when Theismann suffered a career-ending injury in 1985, started fast. He threw for a Redskins-record 4,109 yards the next year but couldn’t handle the competition with popular veteran Doug Williams in 1987. Schroeder pouted his way out of town in September 1988.

Slow-footed Mark Rypien was benched in 1989 but got his job back when Williams, the hero of Super Bowl XXII, proved too old. Rypien ultimately succeeded because of his big arm and a terrific supporting cast and because he was as football-smart as any player Joe Gibbs ever coached.

Gus Frerotte, selected 194 spots behind Shuler in the 1994 draft, won the job because he was a better passer than Shuler. But Frerotte proved better in short bursts than long stints as a starter, and he became an object of ridicule when he knocked himself silly with a celebratory head-butt of a stadium wall in 1997, his second-to-last season in Washington.

Ramsey’s body and confidence took a constant pounding in the everybody-go-long scheme of coach Steve Spurrier. Ramsey also couldn’t overcome his bad habit of locking onto his intended receiver, and he was benched twice by Gibbs — once before he had played even one down for the coach.

Campbell doesn’t have any of those obvious weaknesses.

Chris Samuels, a four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle, compared the leadership abilities of Campbell to those of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, also a Pro Bowl player, and Redskins receiver Antwaan Randle El praised Campbell’s poise.

Redskins receiver Santana Moss, another Pro Bowl selection, raved about Campbell’s natural gifts.

“It seems like it’s going by fast,” said Campbell, who turns 26 on New Year’s Eve. “It’s been fun. I have learned a lot, and I continue to learn a lot. I continue to try to grow and get better.”

Campbell took another step Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The coaches trusted him to run the no-huddle offense, calling the plays for a good chunk of the game. Campbell delivered a career-high three touchdown passes and a 114.2 passer rating, the second-best of his career.

“Jason’s been impressive,” said Gibbs, who coached Hall of Famer Dan Fouts in San Diego and Super Bowl quarterbacks Theismann, Williams and Rypien in Washington. “I certainly like his work ethic. Normally, if you have the talent, what’s inside will drive you. He has real character. The other thing about him, he’s tough. …

“Then you come to smarts. He’s football-smart. Running the no-huddle, a guy who can handle that it shows he knows what’s going on. And then it comes to talent. Obviously, he’s got an arm. [And] he’s still growing.”

That’s the biggest thing.

Campbell has played 16 games — nearly half of them without the starters on the right side of his line, another seven without his No. 1 running back and three without his No. 1 receiver.

Despite those obvious handicaps, Campbell has been solid. Not spectacular. Solid.

Rypien was better sooner than Campbell, but he was throwing to Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders and playing behind the Hogs.

“I think Jason’s going to be a great one,” Samuels said. “He’s a leader. The sky’s the limit for Jason as long we do our jobs.”

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