- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2006

Only the diehards will still be at Paul Brown Stadium. A chunk of the national television audience will have turned to watch Al Swearengen on “Deadwood” and Ari Gold on “Entourage.” And many of the players on the field with him will be released or relegated to the practice squad in three weeks.

But for Washington Redskins second-year quarterback Jason Campbell, tonight’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals might as well be a high-stakes regular season game.

The wait has been that long, the playing time is that needed, the excitement level that high for the former first-round pick.

It has been almost a year since Campbell played in a game, Sept. 1 in a 26-20 overtime loss at Baltimore, finishing a preseason in which he completed 17 of 37 passes for 244 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Back then, Patrick Ramsey was the quarterback of the present, LaVar Arrington the face of the franchise and Joe Gibbs the play-caller.

Tonight, Mark Brunell is the unquestioned quarterback of the present (Ramsey’s with the Jets), Clinton Portis is the Redskins’ face (LaVar’s with the Giants) and Al Saunders is the play-caller (CEO Joe will still be on the sideline).

“That feels like a really, really long time ago,” Campbell said after practice Thursday. “But at the same time, it was good [to sit] because it was a learning experience and I’ve enjoyed it. The main thing now is getting the opportunity to play and getting into some kind of rhythm.”

Before Campbell attempts to gain his rhythm, the starting offense will play 12 to 15 snaps to try to get into the flow. Receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El will be making their first appearances with the Redskins.

“We want to move the ball,” Brunell said. “Whatever length of time the first group is out there, we want to throw it and run it with success to get that balance and try and move it against a very good defense.”

The Redskins’ first-team defense — featuring newcomers Andre Carter and Adam Archuleta — isn’t expected to play long, either.

“We’re not going to do anything to overload the young guys’ minds or the older guys’ minds,” assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “We’re going to watch them work on their techniques, look at their conditioning and mainly concentrate on fundamentals.”

When Campbell relieves Todd Collins, probably at halftime, he will get two quarters to show the coaching staff he has a grasp for his sixth offense in as many years and has improved the fundamental and mechanical points that have been pounded into his head for six months.

Depending on who is asked, Campbell has looked strong (a big arm, solid decision-making, good mobility) or sketchy (absolutely the third quarterback behind Brunell and Collins).

“I feel like I’ve improved,” Campbell said. “I’ve gotten better within the offense and just feel comfortable. I hope it continues.”

In a scrimmage against Baltimore last week, Campbell was 4-for-7 for 48 yards.

“I think Jason’s doing fine,” quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor said. “He’s learning every, single day and he’s shown great improvement and Sunday will be a chance for him to go out and show exactly how far he’s come.”

Asked how he’ll judge Campbell’s progress, Saunders said: “We would like to see consistency, good decisions and technique improvement.”

Campbell thinks he’s up to the speed with the offense Saunders introduced soon after his hiring in late January.

“I was in a different situation last year when I came in,” Campbell said. “I was way behind Mark and Patrick because they had been in the offense for a year. But now that I’ve had an offseason here, I’ve been able to spend time learning the offense.”

When he enters the game, Campbell said a key is not trying to do too much.

“I want to play, have fun and not worry about making big plays and impressing the coaches because I’ve gotten this far for a reason,” he said. “For me, it’s about being myself and doing what I can to move the team down the field.”

For the rest of the players who play in the second half tonight, the initial preseason game is about making an impression.

“There’s two main things: Look as polished as we can on offense, defense and special teams,”Gibbs said, “and, when we do put the young guys in who are trying to make the team, we want the opportunity to see them play against good people so we can evaluate them.”

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