- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Jason Campbell yesterday was named the Washington Redskins’ starting quarterback in place of veteran Mark Brunell, who had started each game of the team’s disappointing 3-6 season.

Campbell, 24, never has taken a snap in an NFL regular-season game and will make his debut Sunday when the Redskins visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Coach Joe Gibbs announced the decision during a late-afternoon press conference at Redskin Park.

“I’m going to make this move, and it’s to hope that we get more production,” Gibbs said of the third quarterback change he’s made since rejoining the Redskins in 2004. “We’re going to give Jason this opportunity and see if we can get some answers.”

Gibbs didn’t address the change with his players during a 1 p.m. team gathering, instead meeting with the three quarterbacks — Brunell, Campbell and Todd Collins — individually late in the afternoon.

Brunell, 15-18 as the Redskins’ starter, now will be the No. 2 quarterback. Collins was demoted to third string.

“It’s the beginning of a new era for me,” Campbell said. “I just want to be myself and continue to work hard and take things one step at a time.”

Brunell and Al Saunders, the associate head coach for offense, were not available late yesterday to comment on the change.

Brunell, speaking before he knew about the demotion, said ugly defeats such as the 27-3 rout the Redskins suffered against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday made him wonder about his job security.

“On Mondays after a loss, it crosses your mind, of course,” he said. “But when I’m playing the game, it’s nowhere in my mind. You go out there, and if you’re a starter, you try to compete, and you try to win. That’s really all you can do, and it’s like that for every guy each week.”

The switch marked the second time that Brunell lost the job as the Redskins’ starter. He was benched and replaced by Patrick Ramsey in November 2004, but he reclaimed the job in September 2005 and led the Redskins to the playoffs.

Campbell was a first-round pick (25th overall) for the Redskins in the 2005 draft after leading Auburn to an undefeated season. The Redskins traded their first-round pick and two mid-round picks in the 2006 draft to move into position to select him.

The demotion marks a turning point in what has been a difficult season for both Brunell and the Redskins, who last season returned to the playoffs for the first time in six years.

The club brought in high-priced free agents in receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El, safety Adam Archuleta and defensive end Andre Carter in the offseason and felt it finally had the elements in place for a deep run into the postseason.

There were, however, lingering questions about Brunell, who, at 36, was nearing the end of his career and played poorly down the stretch last season.

The Redskins lost their first two games, and Brunell came under heavy criticism for his performance. He rebounded from a poor performance in a Week 2 loss to the Dallas Cowboys with a stellar performance in a victory over the Houston Texans, in which he set an NFL record for consecutive completions.

A dramatic win over the Jacksonville Jaguars the next week revived hope that the Redskins could regain form and return to the playoffs.

But that was followed by three consecutive losses, and it became apparent that Brunell lacked the mobility to escape defensive pursuers and the arm strength to get the ball downfield to big-play receivers like Santana Moss, Lloyd and Randle El.

Still, he managed to put up good statistics by throwing short, high-percentage passes and by avoiding mistakes. But those nice numbers didn’t translate into points and wins.

When Brunell completed only 16 of 31 passes for 132 yards and threw a back-breaking interception against the Eagles on Sunday, Gibbs concluded that the only way for the 16th-ranked offense to get a spark would be to switch quarterbacks. Brunell has thrown only four interceptions this season, but also just eight touchdown passes, the third-fewest among quarterbacks who have started every game.

“When we drafted Jason, we felt we were getting a very talented person, and we’re going to do everything to support him,” Gibbs said. “He’s been here a year and a half preparing for this. … He’s worked as absolutely hard as he can since he’s gotten here.”

Campbell said he was “kind of shocked” when Gibbs gave him the news.

“When somebody like him calls you into his office, it’s like going to the principal’s office, and you get some jitters because you don’t know what to expect,” Campbell said. “But once I got in there, and he talked about the situation, I got excited because this is my opportunity to play for the Redskins and in this league for the first time.”

The wait for Campbell has been long. He played in a few preseason games and watched five quarterbacks from his draft class and three quarterbacks from the 2006 class start games. Now, finally, he will find out if he is ready.

“I think Jason’s come a long way this year,” quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor said. “When you mix in the training camp reps, the preseason games and the practices, he’s done a good job getting up to speed.”

Campbell’s success in the next few weeks will determine the team’s future beyond this season. If he plays well, the Redskins likely have their quarterback for several seasons beyond this one. If he bombs, the club could be in the market for another veteran quarterback this winter.

“We’re all going to find out together,” Lazor said. “And if he does well, we’ll all be very excited.”

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