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Gibbs Defends Selection of Campbell

Redskins Coach Says Quarterback Adds To Team's 'Value'

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 25, 2005; Page D12

Coach Joe Gibbs concedes that when a 6-10 team with a 26-year-old starting quarterback and ample pressure to win immediately uses one of its two first-round picks on a passer who is likely several years from playing, there will be questions.

But despite Gibbs's repeated votes of confidence in quarterback Patrick Ramsey, a 2002 first-round pick, and the Washington Redskins' needs at other positions, team officials invested considerable time scouting and positioning to draft Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell on Saturday, and say they are delighted to have him.

"For us and for the value to the organization long-term, I don't think you ever go wrong with a quarterback," said Joe Gibbs on drafting Jason Campbell. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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Campbell's evolution will be closely monitored, and his selection could prove to be the defining move of Gibbs's second era in Washington.

The Redskins traded three draft picks -- including their 2006 first-round selection -- to land the 25th pick from Denver and, through the first day of the draft, did nothing to improve what was the NFL's 30th-ranked offense in the short term (cornerback Carlos Rogers, a potential starter at some point next season, was taken ninth overall). Wide receiver Santana Moss replaced Laveranues Coles via trade and wideout David Patten was signed in free agency, but the rest of Washington's "skill" players are intact from a team that averaged 15 points per game last season.

The Redskins passed on highly rated receiver Mike Williams with the ninth pick -- as it turned out they could have taken him there and still have drafted one of the top five cornerbacks available with the 25th pick -- and several wide receiver options were open when Campbell was taken. While to some he might not seem like the ideal selection for the Redskins, Gibbs has big expectations.

"You maybe don't picture that" as the ideal draft pick in that situation, Gibbs said. "But I feel like for us and for the value to the organization long-term, I don't think you ever go wrong with a quarterback. I guess that's what I'm saying: If you've got somebody you think is talented and can play for you, I think you look at that and say, 'Where's the value of the pick?' And we felt like certainly he was the guy we needed to get."

Campbell was labeled a "project" by several NFL teams after failing to make an impact at Auburn until his senior season. He suffered from playing for four offensive coordinators in four seasons and did not begin to look like a pro prospect until 2004. Campbell worked with coordinator Al Borges his senior season, when Auburn went undefeated. Borges went to a West Coast-style offense with more short passes and devised a scheme to get running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, both of whom were selected among the top five picks Saturday, on the field at the same time to diversify the Tigers' passing game.

Campbell's overall size and athletic ability are considerable attributes, but how he will develop is the source of debate.

"He's more than just a product of his [offensive] system, and he has natural talent," one NFL personnel executive said of Campbell days before the draft. "But he has some real issues to overcome. If Joe knows what we know, he's not going to take him with that pick there. Everyone I've talked to thinks this kid is at best a second-round pick."

Another team official said that until his senior season, it did not appear that Campbell would even be drafted. He likened Borges's work with Campbell to what California Coach Jeff Tedford did with recent first-round picks Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Boller, and cautioned against expecting too much too soon from Campbell.

"He's going to be holding a clipboard for two years," the executive said. "I think it will take him that long to learn the system and be ready to execute it."

One Southeastern Conference defensive coach believes the Redskins erred in taking Campbell, saying there were three quarterbacks in the SEC he would draft ahead of Campbell. "He'd win a beauty contest, and the NFL just sees a tall quarterback with a strong arm," the coach said. "They're obviously not looking at all the other intangibles."

But Georgia defensive assistant Rodney Garner, an SEC foe, believes Campbell could be a find. "He was like a different player last year. He was very confident and very poised," Garner said. "We credit him with that team's turnaround more than anyone else. Their running backs got all the accolades, but we felt Campbell was the most important component in them winning. He's always had the ability to do it. He was such a more confident kid and was sure of the system."

Gibbs said Campbell's football intellect is considerable and his transition should be eased by the similarities between Auburn's system last season and Washington's. All of his offensive assistants rated the quarterback highly as well. Gibbs and Campbell shied away from projecting when he would be ready to start an NFL game, but his allure was too great for Gibbs to pass up.

"It takes a long time to get [a quarterback] ready to play for you," Gibbs said. "So we felt like it was something value-wise that we had to do."

Gibbs said he prizes character, smarts and toughness above arm strength and accuracy when analyzing quarterbacks, and believes that while raw, Campbell has all of those traits. Ramsey is also praised by his coach for those qualities, while he is still honing his touch and gaining experience. Veteran Mark Brunell, who was signed to a seven-year, $43 million contract but lost his starting job to Ramsey midseason, is also still in Gibbs's plans, and the coach said yesterday that Brunell's hamstring injury and the overall weak play of the Redskins in the first half resulted in much of the quarterback's ineffectiveness.

Campbell, who will arrive in Washington with Rogers today for their introductory news conference, knows there is much he can glean from the quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart.

"I'm going to come in and learn as much as possible as quick as I can," Campbell said, "participate in practice, work hard and take everything one step at a time. I feel I can learn a lot from Patrick and especially from Mark Brunell. I think it is a tremendous opportunity for me to learn from those guys and take everything one step at a time."

Staff writer Mark Schlabach contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company