In the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, Jason Campbell was selected to be the franchise quarterback for the Washington Redskins. But after several changes in offensive coordinators and schemes, along with the offseason flirtation with Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler, many are left wondering if Campbell can grow through the adversity to become the playmaking quarterback the Redskins are looking for.
During my visit to Redskins training camp I found a positive and upbeat Campbell taking greater charge of the huddle and willing to take shots down the field with more aggressive throws against tight coverages.
The more assertive Campbell is a contrast to the one who led the Redskins’ 28th-ranked scoring offense one year ago. At times last year, Campbell seemed tentative and reluctant to push the ball down the field. Now he admits how his apprehension led to his conservative play.
“Last year I was too protective. I was more focused on avoiding turnovers, so I didn’t take chances,” says Campbell. “Now, its my second year in the system and I’m more sure of where to go with the ball. Last year it was a guessing game, but now the receivers are more sure, the tight ends are more sure, we all can help each other and be more aggressive with what we’re doing.”
Campbell accomplished his goal of avoiding turnovers — his six interceptions were the fewest in the league — but he failed to create explosive offensive plays and seldom did he lead his team into the end zone.
Campbell possesses the arm and ability most quarterbacks can only dream about. On this hot and humid day at Redskins Park, he is throwing with great accuracy and he’s attacking the defense, while forcing them to defend every blade of grass.
But will it carry over into games? Even his teamates are wanting to see Campbell become a fearless flame thrower.
“Campbell has to become more aggressive,” says Redskins TE Chris Cooley. “The biggest thing you want in a quarterback is to have balls, take over the team and take over games. He knows that.”
Campbell seems to know exactly how his teamates feel, and he knows what they want to hear.
“I look for us to put the ball downfield more this season,” says Campbell. “I can’t stare at it, but let it rip, play with an attitude and attack the attacker. I have to use my feet to my advantage vs. Cover 2 Man, and I gotta trust the wide receivers to compete for the ball and if they can’t catch it— defend it, protect the ball, but just take more chances.”
While in the midst of offseason rumors that the Redskins were attempting to trade for Cutler, head coach Jim Zorn dealt honestly with Campbell and now sees the near trade as a moment of adversity which could lead to a period of growth in Campbell’s overall development.
“When the story about Cutler broke I reached out to Jason and I brought him into my office,” says Zorn. “He dealt with it in a mature way and I wanted him to know that he is the guy, because, he is the guy.”
Zorn went on to say, “It has helped him grow. We want production. So now he has to take the next step beyond just becoming the starter. There is always something to work for. From starter to All-Pro. Adversity helps us grow to the next level.”
Campbell’s answer to the Cutler issue has to be reassuring to many Redskins fans. Instead of pouting, he had this to say: “The truth is I can’t let it define me. I can’t become negative or allow it to distract me. I’m a competitor, but first I have to compete against myself to become a better me.”
According to his teammates, the Campbell they see in training camp has become better in all areas, which suggests that he is ready to move on and lead the team.
“He makes more plays in practice and now has command of the huddle and the team,” says Cooley.
Center Casey Rabach says, “He commands more confidence and leadership now more than ever. He’s got the arm, and he’s got the legs to get us out of bad situations.”
Zorn also likes what he sees.
“We’re making more calls, he’s making better decisions. He has a hose for an arm and we’re going to use it, but we need protection too, so we can use it.”
In the final year of his contract Campbell is going to tell us once and for all what he is made of. If he comes through, he will have joined the other quarterbacks in the NFC East to earn a franchise quarterback contract like Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo.
One thing is for certain: After the 2009 season has concluded, the Redskins will award a talented quarterback a blockbuster contract. The question is, will that quarterback be Campbell?