Campbell taking changes in stride -- again
Change doesn't appear to bother Jason Campbell. That's good news for the Redskins, who are making their quarterback learn a new offense for the third time in four seasons, writes Jeffri Chadiha.
Some of that nature comes from the laid-back southern vibe he developed while growing up in Mississippi. The rest of it comes from ample life experience. After all, Campbell is once again learning another offense -- for the third time in four NFL seasons no less. And, once again, he's taking it in stride, as if change will always be the one constant in his career.
It's easy to underestimate what Campbell is going through because we tend to focus on more measurable factors when evaluating young quarterbacks, especially statistics like touchdown-interception ratios and quarterback ratings. In Campbell's case, those numbers don't mean nearly as much as his mental toughness. Ask other young quarterbacks how hard it is to frequently go from one offensive system to another, and most will tell you that lack of continuity can kill a career. Campbell just sees it as another reason to work harder at his craft.
Now don't misunderstand this. The man doesn't deserve pity because he's trying to absorb the West Coast offense that new head coach Jim Zorn has installed this offseason. But it is important to note that Campbell is proving his leadership by how deftly he handles another change.
"It does feel like I'm starting school all over again," said Campbell, who threw for 2,700 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2007. "I thought I had graduated, but it does feel like starting over. I'm putting a lot of time and effort in but I also realize we have a long way to go before we're where we want to be."
You couldn't blame Campbell if he felt a little more frustrated with the trajectory of his pro career. He spent his rookie season sitting and learning behind former Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell. He played six games in 2006 but he still had to wait patiently for his chance. Then he became a full-time starter last season, only to see his season end with a dislocated left kneecap in Week 13. Then there was the retirement of head coach Joe Gibbs. Every time Campbell starts building momentum, something interferes with the process.
Still, there is one main advantage Campbell has in Zorn's offense: Familiarity. Campbell turned into a first-round pick in the 2005 draft primarily because Auburn installed a West Coast system during his senior year. In that offense, Campbell displayed his decision-making and his efficiency, and he's hoping it can do the same this season. At the very least, he knows he's gone through so many systems (including four in college) that he's finally running out of new offenses to learn.
Redskins QB Jason Campbell talks with Scott Hanson about his optimism for the 2008 season.
But that doesn't mean there aren't challenges involved in this process. For one, Campbell is learning new mechanics again. He had to revise his technique when former Redskins assistant Bill Musgrave coached him as a rookie and he did it a second time when the team hired former offensive coordinator Al Saunders in 2006. Now Zorn is asking Campbell to alter his fundamentals once more. The most noticeable change, according to Campbell, involves how he stands in the pocket -- Zorn wants Campbell to avoid standing so upright so the quarterback can deliver the football more quickly.
For a 6-foot-5, 233-pound quarterback like Campbell, learning to stay low can be a chore -- Zorn has even had his signal-callers play dodgeball in practice to hone that skill -- but Campbell has impressed his coach with his quick learning.
"You can see he's very serious about wanting to be great," Zorn said. "What I really like is that he can make his body make the changes that I want technique-wise. If you tell him to hold the ball higher as he drops back, he can do that. Some guys can make the change in an individual drill and then they revert back to their old habits in a competitive situation. Jason doesn't do that."
It's hard to explain how much Zorn could mean to Campbell's development. In fact, the first big move the coach made was to avoid a quarterback controversy. It would be easy to think backup Todd Collins deserves a shot at starting, especially after he rallied the Redskins to three straight wins last season while Campbell was sidelined. Instead, Zorn said Campbell was his quarterback immediately after the team hired the coach in February. Campbell earned that opportunity and he wasn't going to lose it because of an injury.
Campbell says he wasn't worried about the possibility of competing for his job -- "I knew I didn't do anything to lose the job," he said -- but it had to feel good knowing Zorn was in his corner. Zorn made a point to say he wasn't going to play mental games with his young quarterback. He was going to coach him as well as possible and hope Campbell responded. So far, that's the case.
"Jason won't be as good in his first year in this offense as he will be down the line" Zorn said. "But what I'm hoping is that he can manage the game and play solid football. We don't have to win because of him but we do have to be able to win with him."
That last part isn't lost on Campbell, either. Sure, he'd love to put up huge numbers, but he also accepts that such a goal won't help at this stage. His job needs to be more simple than that; he needs to learn as much as possible about his new offense so he can lead the Redskins with the necessary amount of confidence. As long as he does that, his team will be in good hands with him under center.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com
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