- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The rookie quarterbacks looked good this week: Vince Young of the Titans and Bruce Gradkowski of the Buccaneers led their teams to victory, and Matt Leinart played well enough to win in a heartbreaking loss for the Cardinals.

Sophomores Alex Smith (49ers), Charlie Frye (Browns) and Andrew Walter (Raiders) run their team’s offenses, albeit with marginal results.

And each of the members of the first-round quarterback class of 2004 — the Giants’ Eli Manning, the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and the Bills’ J.P. Losman — holds a firm grasp on a job as a starter.

Jason Campbell, meanwhile, continues to wait. And wait and wait. Campbell now is 22 games into his NFL career and still has not taken a snap, much less completed a pass, for the Redskins.

“Just running the scout team,” Campbell said the other day in the locker room. “After practice, we run through the [game plan] so I can throw to the receivers.”

Campbell can take all the work he wants during and after practice, but it’s impossible to gauge his progress. The only way to know whether he’s the guy to lead the Redskins into the next decade is by putting him into a game.

The fans at FedEx Field on Sunday made it clear that’s what they want. Sure, as coach Joe Gibbs often says, the No. 2 or 3 quarterback is No. 1 in the fans’ eyes.

But the Redskins are 2-4 and Mark Brunell looks every bit of his 36 years, so many fans want the quarterback of the future to play now — even if it means sacrificing the rest of a season that appears to be going nowhere even if the Redskins upset the Colts on Sunday.

The case for Campbell

1. Experience the growing pains now

This depends upon the Redskins losing to Indianapolis on Sunday.

If they lose, Gibbs should announce Campbell as his new starter during Monday’s press conference, a decision that would allow him 13 days, including the bye week, to prepare for the Nov. 5 game against the Cowboys at FedEx Field.

The Titans and Cardinals took this approach earlier this month, deciding to go with Young and Leinart. Those moves likely won’t pay off with a lot of victories immediately, but the Titans and Cardinals will be better off next September for making the changes now.

If Campbell makes nine starts this season — including four road games — he’ll be better prepared for next year. And a Week 1 start next year — who knows, it could be in an NFC East road game — would be a tougher spot to make an NFL debut than midway through an already lost season.

2. Find out if he’s the guy

The Redskins can, by playing Campbell the final nine games this year, obtain enough of a sample of his skills to decide whether he is capable of holding the starter’s job next season or whether they need to find a veteran quarterback capable of running the offense for a season.

The Ravens gave Kyle Boller three seasons to prove himself before finally trading for veteran Steve McNair. The Redskins won’t be nearly as patient with Campbell.

If Campbell shows ability, the Redskins can keep Todd Collins as the backup or restructure Brunell’s deal to keep him around, if he’s willing to stay.

The case against Campbell

1. The season isn’t over

For Gibbs, the season isn’t lost yet.

The Redskins won’t want to admit they’re giving up on this season until they’re actually eliminated from playoff contention, so chances are that Campbell won’t get serious playing time until December.

There is a problem with that, as team president Joe should tell coach Joe: If the Redskins are 2-5 at the bye week, they need to start thinking about the future — even if they are mathematically alive for a most-improbable playoff berth.

2. Doubts about No. 17

There have not been whispers of such around Redskin Park, but maybe the team is holding off on playing Campbell until he gets another offseason, another training camp and another four preseason games of work with Al Saunders on his playbook.

But the Redskins can’t expect to sit Campbell for two complete seasons, start him in Week 1 next fall and not take a step back. For what they gave up to get him, he needs a chance to play even if there are doubts.

Final verdict

“Jason has worked extremely hard,” Gibbs said Monday. “We have a lot invested in him, and we think someday he’ll be the future. None of that has changed, and the situation hasn’t changed.”

What Gibbs means: Don’t expect Campbell to play until either Brunell gets injured or fan outrage — like the pronounced booing of Brunell in a loss to the Bengals in 2004 — forces Gibbs’ hand.

What he should do: If the Redskins lose to Indianapolis, hand the keys of the offense to Campbell.

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