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Tackling an opening

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In his seventh NFL season, Washington Redskins linebacker Khary Campbell has accomplished a career first.

Campbell has started consecutive games, albeit preseason ones, and he leads the team with 13 tackles. Plus, the 29-year-old could remain in the lineup for the season-opener against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

Rocky McIntosh, who is recovering from a torn ACL, is supposed to start at weak-side linebacker, but the team is being careful with him. While McIntosh has been fully participating in practice, he has yet to play this preseason.

And 2007 draft pick H.B. Blades, who saw some time on the weak side last year, remains sidelined after having a knee scoped late last month.

Coach Jim Zorn said McIntosh will "work his way" back into the lineup, perhaps as late as September, and praised Campbell for "making a statement and an impact."

Defensive coordinator Greg Blache countered by calling McIntosh "a special teams specialist," saying that McIntosh could start if Washington had a game tomorrow.

"Khary has done well," Blache said. "He's smart enough to be able to play any of the linebacker positions. He can finish a game for you, but I don't know if he's physical enough to be an every-down starter. He's got a problem maintaining his weight [232 pounds] even though he eats like he's three people."

Even though former defensive boss Gregg Williams used Campbell in some goal-line situations, he played only about 100 snaps on defense last year. His only regular-season start came in 2006 at Indianapolis when middle linebacker Lemar Marshall was out with an ankle injury.

So huddling with longtime teammates like Cornelius Griffin, Shawn Springs and Marcus Washington the past two games has been special for Campbell, who prides himself on having led one of the NFL's top kick coverage units in tackles three years running.

"It wouldn't mean as much to be No. 1 if we were dead last in kick coverage," Campbell said. "Of course, like anyone, I've always wanted to be a starter, but I don't waste time wondering why I'm not when there are other things I can be doing. I don't look at it as what I might not have as much as what those guys who start have. I look at playing on defense as a bonus. It's been a treat to be out there with those guys."

Campbell was a four-year starter at Bowling Green, but he wasn't chosen in the 2002 draft. He still made the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys and was soon claimed by the New York Jets, for whom he played in nine games on special teams that season. But when Campbell blew out a knee the following October, the Jets gave him an injury settlement.

He then signed with the Redskins in 2004, and now only six players have been with the team longer.

"Khary uses his hands extremely well, and he's very persistent, so he's difficult to block," said special teams coach Danny Smith, who uses Campbell on all four coverage and return units as well as field goal/extra point protection. "He's got a nose for the ball, and he understands special teams schemes exceptionally well."

Campbell also sticks every year because, as linebacker coach Kirk Olivadotti said, "he's accountable," always doing what's asked and always being where he's supposed to be.

"The biggest thing is the trust we have in Khary," Olivadotti said.

That trust was reflected in the Redskins not drafting a linebacker or signing one who was in the league last year, leaving Campbell, Blades and Matt Sinclair, who debuted in December, in good shape to remain on the roster this fall.

"That made me feel good, but I've always tried to be a team player," Campbell said. "I just do what I'm told to the best of my ability."