Jason Campbell makes a difference
NAPA, Calif. -- In the early stages of a physical Oakland Raiders training camp practice Thursday, there were stark differences from a year ago.
Jason Campbell broke the huddle with the Raiders' offense, moved a receiver over another yard and barked his quarterback cadence to initiate a play.
"Yeah, I know the difference because I've been around him awhile," said former Redskins teammate Rock Cartwright, now a Raiders running back. "He's more vocal it's a fresh start. It was tough for him in Washington, especially the past year or two because there were always rumors about them bringing in someone else."
The Redskins did bring in someone else -- Donovan McNabb from the Eagles, which set up a draft-day trade in which the Raiders acquired Campbell for a fourth-round choice in 2012.
There also is a huge contrast for the Raiders, who released disappointing quarterback JaMarcus Russell, a former No. 1 overall pick, in May.
"I would say Jason Campbell, from a player standpoint, is probably the biggest difference on our team," All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "He's just an automatic leader. He didn't have to get pushed into that role. Once he was in the huddle, you could see guys standing at attention. He's quick to put the guys in their right place, offense or defense, and that's something we really needed from that position."
Campbell admitted to feeling rejuvenated and retold the story of spending time with Brett Favre in his hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss., before reporting to camp. Favre offered a pep talk.
"Brett said sometimes it takes a change of scenery like he had [from Atlanta to Green Bay] and how it really took him five years to get comfortable in the NFL," Campbell said. "He just reminded me it's happened with a lot of quarterbacks."
The Raiders know something about that history of quarterbacks reviving their careers with a change of scenery -- from Jim Plunkett to Rich Gannon, a former MVP and the last quarterback to lead Oakland to a Super Bowl, in 2002.
Asomugha isn't predicting a Super Bowl for the Raiders, but he didn't hesitate to define them as a threat to the Chargers in the AFC West. He was effusive in his praise of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, as well as the rapid growth of young receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy and the impact of this year's top draft pick, middle linebacker Rolando McClain. He described McClain as a "big guy, a smart guy, and based on the live hitting I saw [Thursday], he's a punisher."
"We've been around several years where it hasn't gone our way even when we've gone into a season before with a feeling that this could be our turn," Asomugha said. "This year, it's not just that. This year, it's different. We have the players, the mentality and we're seeing it on the field."
• Reserve quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who has recovered from a left pectoral muscle injury suffered four months ago, vouches for reports of Heyward-Bey's strides in the offseason. "The thing people don't know about him is how hard he works at it, and it's paying off," said Gradkowski, who provided a spark for the Raiders when Russell was benched.
• Campbell also spoke positively about Heyward-Bey, and he believes second-year WR Louis Murphy is the real deal as a deep threat. "I'm impressed," the QB said.
• Campbell on running back Darren McFadden: "I'm absolutely stunned at how natural a receiver he is. That's something we'll take advantage of. I know Coach Jackson sees it, too."
• The Raiders will have a one-two running punch of Michael Bush and McFadden, but head coach Tom Cable really believes the key is keeping left guard Robert Gallery healthy. Cable admitted he has a special affinity for Gallery, who was disappointing as a tackle but has become one of the NFL's best guards.
• The Raiders have the league's best kicker-punter combination in Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler. Nevertheless, the goal is to have Lechler punt less, and for Janikowski to get more extra points and fewer field goals.
• Asomugha smiled when asked about the publicity he has received over Darrelle Revis' contract holdout with the Jets. Revis wants to surpass the Raiders corner as the top-paid defensive back, at $16 million. "I keep hearing that, but it's none of my business, and I hope he gets it all worked out," Asomugha said.
• Asomugha's eye-popping, three-year, $45.3 million contract negotiated by agent Tom Condon has one year left, in 2011, when his salary must be either the average of the top five paid NFL quarterbacks or a guaranteed $16.75 million.
ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen will file reports from all the training camps and send updates on the road via Twitter (@mortreport).
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