- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Jason Campbell watched “Monday Night Football” last night with a very different mind-set.

Campbell was named the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins just hours earlier, and the opponent he will face Sunday in his first game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was taking the field.

“I’ll watch the game with a different attitude,” Campbell said. “When you’re going to be starting, you tend to take notes and watch the game a lot closer and try to pick out tendencies.”

How Campbell will perform in an NFL game that counts, however, remains a mystery. Campbell has played in practice and a few preseason games, but he never has taken a snap in a regular-season contest.

“How will Jason play?” center Casey Rabach asked. “That’s a good question. I’ve never been in there with him. He’s athletic. He’s got a big arm. He’s got all the tools. But there have been a lot of quarterbacks who look good on paper. On the practice field, he looks real decent. You never know until he’s in live action.”

When Campbell last was in live action that mattered, he quarterbacked Auburn to a 13-0 record (in 2004) and was named SEC offensive player of the year. Before that, Campbell starred for Taylorsville (Miss.) High School. And Campbell is the son of a coach, something that appealed to Gibbs.

“Jason was the best in high school,” Gibbs said. “He was in one of the biggest and most competitive environments you can have in college and won it all there. He’s a real good athlete. He’s tall and real strong. From what we’ve seen in practice, we think he’s got the talent to play that position.”

Brunell’s strength was his experience and ability to avoid mistakes: He spent 11 seasons as a starter, took his teams to two AFC Championship games and was voted to the Pro Bowl three times. This season, Brunell had eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

Campbell clearly will have a lot of on-field learning to do, but he does bring strength to aspects of the job that were weaknesses for Brunell.

The strong arm and mobility of the 24-year-old Campbell immediately should benefit an offense that has struggled to score and make big plays. The Redskins, for example, entered Philadelphia Eagles territory on six series on Sunday but managed just a field goal in a 27-3 defeat.

Brunell struggled all season to get the ball downfield to big-play receivers Santana Moss, Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El, opting instead for short, high-percentage passes that padded his passer rating but failed to produce many points or victories.

The result was a 3-6 record and the early downfall of high hopes for a second consecutive playoff berth.

“I’m sure there are things we’ll do differently because Mark and I are two different types of quarterbacks,” Campbell said. “I think I can help stretch the field with those downfield throws. … The more I play, the more comfortable I’ll get and the better I’ll become from week to week.”

The wait for Campbell has been long, though that is not without precedent with current coaches and the quarterbacks they have drafted in the first round.

Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints all were early round picks who spent at least a year on the sidelines before getting a chance to play. Each of those young quarterbacks ranks among the top 10 starters in the league this season. That also was the case with Miami Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who sat for a year as a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings, then threw 33 touchdown passes the next season as a starter.

The transition of Campbell into the offense will be somewhat complicated by the absence of top running back Clinton Portis, who broke a bone in his right hand against the Eagles on Sunday. Portis underwent surgery yesterday and is expected to miss the next three to four games.

Backup Ladell Betts, however, has played well in relief of Portis this season.

“We have too many weapons,” guard Randy Thomas said. “We have the opportunities. We just don’t capitalize on them.”

Even if Campbell plays well and the offense scores, the Redskins still have major problems on the other side of the ball: The defense, a top-10 unit in each of the previous two seasons, now ranks as the third worst in the league, one that has allowed more big plays than any other defense in the NFL.

The special teams, personified by unpredictable young kicker Nick Novak, also have been inconsistent.

“We had so many goals, so many high hopes,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to accept. Right now, we’re searching for things. Someone’s got to lead us. Someone’s got to find a way to get it jumping again.”

Whether Campbell is that someone is what the Redskins will begin to learn Sunday in Tampa.

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