Campbell still listed as Redskins' No. 3 QB

What defines patience as such an admirable virtue is that it is a learned behavior and not a character trait that results simply from the random collision of DNA molecules. The ability to somehow transform every unfulfilled expectation into a positive moment and to persevere eventually is a function of experience and not of X chromosomes.

And the patience reservoir is filled one thimble-full of frustration -- in the case of Washington Redskins second-year quarterback Jason Campbell, it seems, one snap -- at a time.

"Every snap you get in practice, well, you'd like to think it brings you one step closer [to playing]," said Campbell, the second of the Redskins' two selections in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft, last week. "And every snap you watch, it kind of makes you wonder, 'OK, so how far away am I from getting on the field?' It's a little bit of a roller coaster. It's a ride that I'm not used to being on, you know? But somehow, I have to stay patient and believe this learning experience is all for the best."

It is not, acknowledged Campbell, who started in 37 of his 46 appearances in four seasons at Auburn and led his team to an undefeated season as a senior, the easiest thing to do.

Taken with the 25th overall selection in 2005, after Washington made a pre-draft trade with Denver, Campbell was anointed the Redskins' "Quarterback of the Future." It is a title, Campbell has discovered painfully, that represents both a blessing and a curse because it augurs uncertainty: Just when will the heir apparent play?

Campbell, 24, has been promised, in the words of coach Joe Gibbs, "a ton" of playing time in preseason. Right now, such promise only suggests Campbell will be working more again on patience than on his passing touch in 2006. And for a quarterback accustomed to being in the big time, and whose performance in his final two seasons in the SEC skyrocketed his draft stock and prompted Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to dispatch a private jet filled with coaches and scouts to the Auburn campus only four days before the 2005 draft, it's something that's sometimes hard to accept.

It appears that before Campbell ever wins the starting job, he'll first have to adopt the patience of Job. No small feat there for a player possessed of tremendous physical talent, prototype size (6-foot-4¾ and 223 pounds) and pocket presence, a superior deep arm, nice mobility and a desire to play.

In his rookie campaign, Campbell didn't take a single snap, and spent all 16 regular-season games and two playoff contests as the No. 3 "emergency" quarterback. He found that poring over the playbook every week builds character and knowledge, but that it is hardly a substitute for booking playing time or building an NFL résumé of which he can be proud.

"To tell you the truth," Campbell said, "it's hard to remember sometimes the last game I played in that actually counted for something. Every player, especially a quarterback, wants that competitive edge. Right now, my competitive edge comes from competing with myself to get myself as ready as I can be for when the day comes that I'm the guy again."

History suggests that Campbell, who figures to go to training camp next month as the third quarterback on the Washington depth chart, behind starter Mark Brunell and journeyman backup Todd Collins, who signed as an unrestricted free agent this spring, should get at least a little playing time this season. After all, of the 67 quarterbacks chosen in the first round since 1970, none ever went through his first two seasons without recording at least one pass attempt.

On the flip side, Campbell is likely to join Chad Pennington of the New York Jets and San Diego's Philip Rivers as the only first-round quarterbacks since 1982 to not start a game in his first two seasons. Unless, that is, Gibbs dramatically accelerates the timetable for moving Campbell into the starting lineup. And with the Redskins coming off a wild-card season, and Brunell off a campaign that resuscitated his career, the possibility of that happening in 2006 is remote.

One of three quarterbacks chosen in the first round in 2005, Campbell was regarded by many scouts as having the most upside of the trio. But he finds himself the most unsettled. Alex Smith, the top overall pick in '05, will go to training camp next month as the San Francisco 49ers' starter. Even Aaron Rodgers, who suffered such a precipitous plummet in last year's draft, knows he is just one Brett Favre retirement press conference away from becoming the Green Bay starter. Campbell still doesn't have any inkling of when he will take his first snap, let alone earn his first starting assignment.

Said former Auburn teammate and current Washington cornerback Carlos Rogers, the team's initial first-round choice in last year's draft: "He has to keep telling himself that he has a lot going for him. But when you've been the main guy for so long, [not playing] can be sort of a comedown, I guess."

One element Campbell does have going for him, beyond his impressive physical skills-set, is that he was handpicked by Gibbs to, at some point down the road, stop the team's quarterback carousel. That gives him a meaningful edge over Patrick Ramsey, the last first-round quarterback taken by Washington before Campbell, in 2002. Having inherited Ramsey, the current coaches owed him no loyalty and so the staff essentially completed the systematic undermining of his confidence begun by Steve Spurrier, awarding him the starting job at the outset of last season and then benching him after the first half of the opening game. Subsequently, Ramsey was traded to the Jets for an undisclosed draft pick in March.

At whatever point Campbell ascends to the top of the depth chart, assuming Gibbs is still around, he will do so knowing that he's playing for the staff that desperately wanted him.

"He's everything we thought we got [when we drafted him]," Gibbs told the Washington Times last week. "He did it in high school. He did it in college. We think he's going to do it up here. Whenever Jason gets to play, I'm going to be excited about it, because he has a lot to bring. When that's going to be, I don't think anybody knows."

Campbell conceded last week that the absence of a "time certain" on his future was a little unnerving. But with Campbell forced to assimilate his second playbook in two seasons, and working with his sixth different coordinator (Al Saunders) in six years, there isn't much time for Campbell to ponder his future.

"There are times when my head is absolutely spinning. I guess it's all a work in progress, you know, so I have to keep progressing. And keep learning enough patience to understand that it's all going to work out in the end for me."
Jason Campbell

He typically spends two hours a day trying to digest the terminology and nuances of a new offense, and time on the field attempting to master a design that demands the ball get out of his hand sooner. As has been the case with his short NFL career, there have been some highs and lows in trying to assimilate the new offensive blueprint.

Observers have noted that Campbell, who might throw one of the most accurate deep balls of any young quarterback in the league, has improved his overall accuracy. His touch on short and intermediate passes, and his sense of the kind of timing mandated by Saunders' offense, have been upgraded throughout spring minicamps and organized team activities sessions. And Campbell insisted that, after some early awkward spots in running the offense, he's learning the system.

"The first day, I'd be in the huddle calling plays and formations and [pass] protections from last year, and even [Brunell] had some problems," Campbell said. "It's not second nature yet, but it's getting there."

As for when Campbell gets there, well, it's still anyone's guess. The suspicion in Washington is that if Brunell were injured during a game, Collins, who has averaged just 3.4 pass attempts over the last eight seasons, would take over and finish the contest. If the injury sidelined Brunell for a game or two, the staff would prepare Campbell to be the starter.

That is, however, just guesswork. Then again, guesswork is something to which Campbell has become accustomed in his brief professional career. Fortunately, Campbell, a native of rural Mississippi who was raised in a home where values and faith were emphasized, has plenty of trust in his eventual value to the Redskins' franchise.

And just enough patience, he believes, to hang with the program.

"There are times," he said, "when my head is absolutely spinning. I guess it's all a work in progress, you know, so I have to keep progressing. And keep learning enough patience to understand that it's all going to work out in the end for me."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.