- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Air Campbell will not be landing at Redskin Park anytime soon.

New Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell possesses the strong arm, young legs and big body deposed starter Mark Brunell lacks. And, yes, Campbell’s first pass Sunday was a gorgeous strike that soared about 60 yards downfield to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who dropped the ball.

That beautiful bomb, however, did not signal a shift to a wide-open, long-ball strategy.

It was, Campbell said, just a case of Lloyd being in man-to-man coverage.

“You’ve got to get the right defense for that stuff,” Campbell said yesterday, one day after delivering a solid debut performance in a 20-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “That’s when you try to take your shots because you don’t get those kind of looks that often.”

The Redskins won’t suddenly summon memories of the gunslinging AFL of Joe Namath, Daryle Lamonica and Len Dawson. Campbell distributed the ball in essentially the same pattern as the weak-armed Brunell.

Campbell threw 18 of his 34 passes to wideouts. In Brunell’s last start, the 36-year-old threw 17 of his 30 passes to wideouts, a slightly higher ratio. Campbell completed seven of those throws for 84 yards, Brunell just five for 64 yards.

“We’re going to run our offense whether Jason’s the quarterback or Mark’s the quarterback,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “If Jason chooses to throw the ball downfield, that’s what will happen. It was the same kind of game plan.”

Coach Joe Gibbs agreed there wasn’t a “radical difference” with Campbell taking the snaps.

Other statistics bear that out: Cooley and running back Ladell Betts each caught a team-high 16 passes over Brunell’s final five starts. Each caught five passes from Campbell on Sunday, again the most on the team.

There was another constant: The Redskins’ reliance on the tight end in the red zone.

The Redskins have scored only nine touchdowns on offense in the six games since their victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 1. Clinton Portis, sidelined for the rest of the season by a hand injury, ran for three. Backup receiver James Thrash caught a touchdown pass in the final seconds of a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and reserve tight end Todd Yoder did likewise against the Bucs.

Cooley scored the other four, giving tight ends five of the nine offensive touchdowns and five of the six touchdown receptions.

“The tight ends do a good job of getting open down there,” Campbell said of the red zone. “Teams tend to play more zone defense [and] double our wide receivers, which gives the tight end an opportunity to work the middle of the field one-on-one. On the touchdown catch, Cooley was kind of out of the picture, but he worked his way all the way back to the football, got open and made the catch. You like those things.”

Yoder’s touchdown catch was his first of the season — he has played little on offense — and gave him as many as $30 million receivers Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El combined.

The Redskins, in fact, are rare among NFL teams in their reliance on running backs and tight ends to catch the bulk of the passes.

The club pays huge salaries to its star wide receivers, Lloyd, Randle El and the injured Santana Moss. But Betts leads the Redskins in receptions, followed by Cooley. On only three other teams do a running back and a tight end rank 1-2 in catches.

“Obviously we haven’t hooked up and gotten the things we want to get done,” Gibbs said of the downfield attack.

Said Campbell: “I don’t think the coaches are babying me. They give me the opportunity to go through my progressions. It’s up to me whether I take those shots downfield or check it down. You throw to the open guy. It doesn’t matter who that is.”

The biggest difference with Campbell perhaps is psychological.

Brunell is at the end of his career. Campbell, who turns 25 on New Year’s Eve, is just getting started.

The Redskins’ prime weapons on offense also are young — Moss and Randle El are 27, Lloyd and Portis are 25 and Cooley is 24 — and under contract long term.

“It’s about building chemistry,” Campbell said. “To build a program, you have to keep guys together. We can’t continue to change guys out. We’ve got a great group of young receivers, and Cooley’s a young guy. We’ve got a lot of things we can build off here. Through tough times, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”



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