Everybody makes a big deal about all the offenses Jason Campbell has had to learn since he went off to college - a different one every year until now. You'd think every season he was back at the beginning, back on Page 1 of the playbook.
But there's another way to look at his scattershot education. I mean, by now, shouldn't Jason - having partaken of Jim Zorn's system, Al Saunders' system, Joe Gibbs' system and assorted other systems during his days at Auburn - have his Ph.D. in quarterbacking? Shouldn't we be addressing him as Dr. Campbell (or if he prefers, Professor)?
After all, every offense, West Coast or not, has components of other offenses - is "multiple," in other words. A screen pass is a screen pass in any football language, and Don Coryell's celebrated "tree" of receivers' routes (hitch, slant, curl, corner, etc.) has taken root in every scheme. So it's not like Campbell has had to empty his head every time the coach or coordinator has changed. Indeed, he should be a better QB for having been exposed to all these philosophies, even if it sometimes feels like he has a concussion.
"You're right about systems overlapping," Zorn said Thursday after training camp got under way, "but it's a small nucleus of overlap. The difference, as much as anything, is in how a coach teaches it, how he gets his point across. Me, I'm trying to simplify it as much as possible so it's easier for players to pick up."
This is the season Campbell hopes to go from being a jack-of-all-offenses to a master of the Bill Walsh/Mike Holmgren/Jim Zorn attack. And the extent to which he succeeds will determine whether he's brought back for a sixth season - or whether the Redskins let his contract run out and go in another direction.
Of course, they nearly went in another direction in April, when the Broncos unexpectedly began shopping Jay Cutler (before sending him to Chicago). That's the subtext of these next 16 games for Campbell: At this point, his team isn't 100 percent sold on him.
Nor should it be, really. Campbell has continued to improve since becoming the starter in mid-2006, but he hasn't quite reached the Franchise Quarterback level. The most encouraging sign, perhaps, is that he had the lowest interception percentage of any NFL regular last season (.012). He also has shown an ability to flee the pocket and pick up first downs. On the other hand, the Redskins are 16-20 with him as the QB - including a 2-6 second-half nose dive a year ago, when one more win might have sneaked them into the playoffs.
Add it all up and you get a 6-foot-5, 233-pound "maybe." And Campbell will remain a "maybe" until he does more than just avoid negative plays (e.g., INTs). Not that he isn't well aware of this. He needs to focus this season, he says, on "big plays and touchdowns and scoring more points. We're in a tough division with a lot of tough games, but we need to score more points. ... In the red zone, he have to get better."
And how exactly does a quarterback go about doing this?
Well, said Zorn, "for me, I've gotta call the right play. Number two, I'm not that disappointed in Jason's play in the red zone. We just didn't get there enough. My goal is to get there more."
The coach makes an interesting point. Quarterbacking is, after all, a collaborative venture. So many other people have to do their jobs well for the QB to be successful. In the first half of last season, when the offensive line was healthy and Clinton Portis was stringing together 120-yard games, Campbell merely had to "drive the car." Later, though, injuries chipped away at his protection, and the offense wound up in a ditch.
Naturally, all eyes turned to the quarterback - and in the months that followed, there was much speculation about his future with the Redskins. Chris Samuels, for one, wasn't too happy about that.
"I don't think he got a fair rap," he said. "Jason tended to get the blame, but [offensive linemen] take these things personal, and we know we didn't do a good enough job protecting him. It's tough for a quarterback if he's getting hit all the time."
The nadir - the beginning of the end, looking back - was when the champions-to-be Steelers stomped Campbell to the tune of seven sacks. The Giants worked him over pretty good, too, and often - way too often - there were defensive linemen in his face.
Since then, Derrick Dockery has returned to the Redskins from his two-year sabbatical in Buffalo, Samuels' knee and biceps have been repaired and the entire rededicated line has gone on the Nutrisystem diet - or so it appears. (Newcomer Mike Williams, in the mix at right tackle, claims to have dropped 108 pounds, which is about the weight of one of the team's summer interns.)
If the O-line holds up its end this season, perhaps Dr. Campbell can take the next step and finally finish his dissertation. Given all the offenses he has studied - and all the coaches he has studied under - it will probably have a lot of footnotes.