- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

When the Washington Redskins’ offense was rolling in the second half Saturday night, Jason Campbell had one thought: Too bad the season is over.

In his seventh start at quarterback, Campbell was trying to engineer a comeback from 20 points down and was in the process of completing 16 of his 22 second-half passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns.

“I wasn’t ready for the game to be over,” he said. “I felt I had just hit my groove point and was making some strides.”

Campbell made perhaps his biggest stride in the Redskins’ season finale, albeit during a 34-28 loss to the New York Giants that ended a dreadful season at 5-11.

But as the Redskins convened for the last time yesterday afternoon for a meeting with coach Joe Gibbs and sessions with position coaches, Campbell was one of the few players not carrying Hefty bags of equipment and souvenir footballs out of Redskin Park.

Campbell, who turned 25 yesterday, plans on staying in the area for a couple more weeks and isn’t in a hurry to forget about the season.

While much of the parking lot player talk was about possible changes with the defense, there are no such concerns about the offense. Campbell is the quarterback, Santana Moss and Chris Cooley are his top targets, Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts form a potentially potent 1-2 running game and the offensive line is expected to remain intact.

“We feel like we’ve got the foundation,” Betts said. “We moved the ball, made first downs and put some points on the board. Now it’s a matter of getting off to a better start early in the season and carrying it through.”

All of it, though, rides on Campbell’s right arm. How much he improves in 2007 will be how much the Redskins improve. The last seven weeks provided him with a foundation.

“I grew up a lot and in a lot of different ways,” he said. “The more I kept playing, the more I got back to my old self and into that mode of playing a lot and leading a team.”

Campbell finished 2-5 as a starter and completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 1,297 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Against the Giants, he completed 21 of 31 passes for 220 yards.

The lone silver lining in the Redskins’ futile season was that things got so bad, Gibbs had no choice but to replace starter Mark Brunell with Campbell.

“It was a great opportunity for Jason to get that game experience and learn from it,” Portis said. “He was probably limited in what he was capable of doing because he came in late in the season, but we’ll see a big variety of things from him next year.”

Hand and shoulder injuries meant Portis didn’t play a snap with Campbell and receiver Santana Moss sat out Campbell’s first start and took another game to get his legs back following a hamstring injury.

Before offseason workouts begin in late March and organized team activities follow in the early summer, Moss intends to invite Campbell to south Florida for passing workouts. Last offseason, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb held a passing camp for his receivers in Arizona.

“Santana told me he was going to kidnap me, but most of the guys will be here working together,” Campbell said. “But if I have to fly somewhere, I will.”

Moss and Campbell finished on a good note Saturday, when they connected five times for 55 yards.

“Anytime we get a chance to do something, I’m going to try and do it because without him there’s no me,” Moss said. “I’m going to make sure I get on point with him so we’ll see eye to eye on how I’m supposed to run and how he can read me and have that trust in me. If there’s a guy next to me, I don’t want him to worry about it just throw it.”

Campbell showed signs in the last few games of flinging it downfield to let his receivers make plays in coverage. It’s part of the reason his completion percentage isn’t as high as Brunell’s, but it also is the chief reason he threw four more touchdown passes than Brunell even though he played two fewer games.

“He always tells me I have the arm strength to put it wherever I want it, and I feel they can run any route to greatness,” Campbell said. “We can be very dynamic because we have guys with speed and ability to make plays if they get the ball in their hands.”

As he moves forward this offseason, Campbell can concentrate entirely on improving chemistry with Moss and Co., instead of having to learn a new playbook for the sixth consecutive year.

Although the won-loss record wouldn’t suggest it, Campbell exceeded expectations this season, but in doing so, he has raised the bar for next year.

“I think a lot of people think that because I’m a young quarterback, I would struggle in a lot of ways,” Campbell said. “But to have the opportunity to sit and watch for a while and be patient really helped me when I got my chance.

“It’s going to be exciting because I have seven games under my belt to build on, and now I’ll have an entire offseason to work with the guys. I’m still going to be a young quarterback and still have a learning curve, but I’ll be a step ahead of where I would be if I hadn’t played this year.”

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