- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Jason Campbell clings to Jan. 2, 2005, when he completed his college career at Auburn with a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

When he feels overwhelmed learning the intricacies of a Washington Redskins passing offense that includes 30 pass protections and myriad formations and patterns, Campbell thinks about the last time he started a game.

When he feels down about spending a second season on the bench, Campbell focuses on the last time he was in charge of a huddle, a game plan and his team’s chances for victory.

Campbell, a first-round pick by the Redskins last year, remains the team’s quarterback-in-waiting. He acknowledges that in the long run, it’s best he learn by watching, but he occasionally wonders what would happen if he learned by playing.

“If you’re a competitor, it’s not easy because, deep down, you want to play,” he said. “But Mark [Brunell] is the guy that took us to the playoffs and he’s the first guy coming back this year and rightfully so. In my position, I have to be patient and wait my turn. Quarterback is different than the other positions because I have to learn the offense inside and out so I can be comfortable out there.

“It feels like a long time since I played in a game. It’s tough to watch, but at the same time, it’s helpful.”

During this past weekend’s minicamp at Redskin Park, Campbell’s comfort level was evident. He looked sharp in 7-on-7 passing drills and composed at the line of scrimmage. His next test will come in the preseason, when he is expected to receive substantial playing time and a chance to win the No. 2 position behind Brunell.

For the last several months, a large binder containing the Redskins’ offense has been Campbell’s constant companion and he has spent hours working with associate head coach Al Saunders and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor.

Their goal is to get Campbell ready to play if needed, but more importantly, prepare him so when he does become the starter, the Redskins don’t take a step back.

“It’s tough mentally when you’re the third guy because you know you’re probably not going to play,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “Now he’s very much in the plans. He’s everything we thought we got. He did it all in high school. He did it all in college. We think he’s going to do it all up here.

“Whenever Jason gets to play, I’m going to be excited about it because he has a lot to bring. When that’s going to be, I don’t think anybody knows.”

Safe approach

More than any other position, quarterback is the you-never-know spot. Teams take numerous approaches with young quarterbacks, from playing them right away to gradually working them into the lineup to having them sit for two years.

From 2000 to 2005, there have been 17 quarterbacks drafted in the first round:

• Only Houston’s David Carr (2002) and Baltimore’s Kyle Boller (2003) started in Week 1 of their rookie year. Carr led the Texas to a 4-12 record and Boller was 5-4 before he was injured.

• Eight other quarterbacks — via injury or non-production from the first-stringer — made a combined 62 starts (30-32 record) in their first season. The record is skewed by Ben Roethlisberger’s 13-0 mark in Pittsburgh. The Giants’ Eli Manning (1-6), Jacksonville’s Byron Leftwich (5-8) and Detroit’s Joey Harrington (3-9) took their lumps. Patrick Ramsey went 2-3 for the Redskins.

• Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer, Buffalo’s J.P. Losman and San Diego’s Drew Brees started in Week 1 of their second season. Chad Pennington didn’t make his first start until Week 5 of his third season.

• Entering this season, Campbell, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and San Diego’s Philip Rivers have yet to make a professional start. Rivers has been named the Chargers’ new starter, though.

Drafting a quarterback in the first round remains an unpredictable endeavor. Only nine of the 17 will enter training camp as the unquestioned starter for their original team.

(Including 1999, when five quarterbacks were taken with the first 12 picks, only Donovan McNabb of Philadelphia is still with his original team and only McNabb and Daunte Culpepper still are in the league. Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown are gone.)

“Those teams researched and thought they knew before they made the pick, but you don’t know until they play,” Lazor said. “We get paid as coaches to constantly evaluate and work and fix and adjust, so that’s what we’re doing with Jason. It’s just a matter off time before we’ll all see.”

Barring injury, Campbell and Rodgers will be on the sidelines for a second consecutive year, and this year’s three first-round quarterbacks — Vince Young of Tennessee, Matt Leinart of Arizona and Jay Cutler of Denver — are projected as backups.

The Redskins are taking the safe approach. They have a veteran starter (Brunell) and a veteran backup (Todd Collins) who could be second or third on the depth chart. The Titans, Cardinals and Broncos are likely to have their rookies one snap away from playing.

“Maybe it’s good sometimes that you don’t get pounded right away as a rookie,” Gibbs said. “You get a chance to feel your way and get hungry.”

The Redskins know what Campbell can do, without the pads. He can command a huddle. His fundamentals have improved. And he has a grasp of the new passing offense. Preseason games against Cincinnati, the Jets, New England and Baltimore will be used to gauge his progress.

“I think you know what they have in the environment they’re in,” Saunders said. “The thing that you can’t create is the tempo and intensity and the unexpected things you’ll see in a game and what level they can handle it at. The important thing for a quarterback is to develop form, technique and fundamentals and then carry over to a pressure environment. That’s what you can’t see until the bullets start flying and the pressure comes on. Often times, you know what a guy can do throwing and moving and what his skills are. But the performance level is what you can’t evaluate until the games start.”

Two days after last season ended, Gibbs promised Campbell would play a “ton” in the preseason and he hasn’t deviated from that plan.

“The preseason will tell a lot for me because Coach Gibbs says I’ll get a lot of playing time and how comfortable I feel and how I play will dictate what will happen,” Campbell said.

More confident

Campbell has been spending between 90 minutes and two hours a night studying his massive playbook, his sixth system since beginning college. When he meets with Lazor and/or Saunders, they dissect each of his throws and even his handoffs.

Lazor calls the details “mundane, but important.” The quarterback meeting after Friday’s minicamp practice was watching video of only the individual drills.

“We started from the beginning with Jason,” Saunders said. “In times of stress, you always revert back to form. Jason hasn’t had the luxury of being in a system for a long period of time so his technique, skills and fundamentals have to be honed for this particular offense. We’re starting to help him from the neck up and the waist down.

“The neck up: The decision-making process, learning the offense, his diction, the way he calls plays, how he leads the huddle, his voice infliction at the line. From the waist down: Footwork, quickness, drops, consistency. Every phase of the game, we’re working on. It’s like a statue you start building. Chip away, chip away and then hope the final product is one that we hope is ready.”

What the Redskins coaches don’t question is Campbell’s tools.

“You don’t get to this stage and have his success if you don’t have certain physical and mental talents,” Lazor said. “Not everybody who can throw the football goes out and play quarterback, too.”

When the Redskins begin training camp July 31, Campbell will be a different quarterback. Last preseason, he was tentative as expected. This preseason, Campbell’s expectations of himself will be higher and the coaches expect a more polished player.

“It’s going to be different [in training camp] because of the fact that I know I’m going to be put in different kinds of situations,” Campbell said. “Right now, the main thing is getting comfortable. I feel confident in what I’m doing.”

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