2nd-year Redskins understudy Jason Campbell gets a chance to prove himself as a starting QB

Student to be tested

November 19, 2006|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

Earlier this season, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell looked around the NFL and saw that players with as much experience - or even less - were doing something other than holding clipboards during games and running scout teams during practice.

When the Tennessee Titans came to FedEx Field last month, there was rookie Vince Young leading his team to its first victory of the 2006 season. Other rookies, such as the Arizona Cardinals' Matt Leinart and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Bruce Gradkowski, also were starting.

Campbell, who has yet to play in a regular-season game since the Redskins traded three picks to draft him 25th overall in 2005, tried to be patient and learn the offense, the sixth he had to master in as many years dating to his freshman year at Auburn.

"You want to study as much as you can, so that when you come out on the field, you're making the right calls, you're throwing the ball in the right places," said Campbell, who was named Monday to replace veteran Mark Brunell. "That's very important because the guys are looking to you to see how you're going to react. Once you play quarterback, you are the leader."

When Campbell makes his NFL debut this afternoon for the Redskins (3-6) against the Buccaneers (2-7) at Raymond James Stadium, there will be the obligatory butterflies inside the 24-year-old quarterback but also a growing sense that he can do what other young quarterbacks have done this season - win.

"It's a different situation everywhere," Campbell said. "The guys that get to start, like Young, you see them getting better and better each game. I'm just looking forward to doing the same thing."

Since taking over for Kerry Collins in Tennessee, Young led the Titans to wins over the Redskins and the Houston Texans, and nearly helped knock off the Indianapolis Colts and the Ravens. Tony Romo, who after four years without taking a snap replaced Drew Bledsoe in Dallas, led the Cowboys to wins at Carolina and Arizona.

"It just shows that young guys can be out here doing it," said Gradkowski, a sixth-round pick out of Toledo last year who has gone 2-4 as a starter, with wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles (on a last-second, 62-yard field goal). "You've seen a lot of young guys get the job done, like Tom Brady did. Football's football."

Said Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, who had to put Gradkowski in after Chris Simms had his spleen removed: "It takes awhile for a young guy to really get a handle on what's going on in this league. I've got a lot of respect for this position and what it takes to get ready, and it isn't easy if you don't have a lot to draw from."

Gruden, who made a similar switch to Simms last season after Brian Griese was injured, compared giving a starting job to a young quarterback to another scenario, one to which some parents can relate.

"You always have some apprehension when you turn the keys over, when you let your son take the car out on his 16th birthday," Gruden said. "You have a little bit of concern. You're not resting as easy the night before the game; at least that's how I was. Fortunately, we have a young guy we like, and hopefully we can continue to improve around him."

Like the other young quarterbacks who have taken over this season, Gradkowski has had mixed results. After playing well in his debut against the New Orleans Saints - with two touchdown passes in a 24-21 defeat - Gradkowski has struggled at times, most recently in a loss Monday night against the Panthers.

"I'm getting more experience every week, I'm learning from my mistakes, and just getting this experience, going into each game, it's built my confidence more and more just to go out there and play football," Gradkowski said in a telephone interview last week.

Campbell knows it will be different today than it was when he played during the preseason.

"I learned a lot from Mark [Brunell] and Todd [Collins], but at the same time, it's kind of different when you're playing, you've got to get yourself into a rhythm, you've got to get yourself back into game speed and play a full game," Campbell said.

Brunell has already talked to Campbell about his own debut as an NFL starting quarterback. It came in 1995, Brunell's third game of his third season in the league, having been traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars after playing behind Brett Favre for two years in Green Bay.

"I told Jason that no matter how it goes on Sunday, you will do better than I did in my first start. It was horrible," said Brunell, who completed 15 of 33 passes for 132 yards, including a touchdown and an interception, and was sacked five times by the New York Jets.

As much of the responsibility for how Campbell does today depends on his offensive line and receivers, it also rests on Al Saunders, the Redskins' associate head coach whose offense Campbell will be running. In 26 seasons coaching in the NFL, Saunders said this is the first time he will send the plays in to a quarterback taking his first snap.

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