By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 30, 2005
He had not taken more than 10 steps inside the front entrance to Redskins Park, when Jason Campbell turned to his father. The quarterback, who a few days earlier had been selected by Washington with the 25th overall pick in the NFL draft, felt a rush of emotion.
"He said, 'Daddy, this is the place,' " said Larry Campbell, recounting the story from his home in Taylorsville, Miss. "This is the place for me, right here. He just had that kind of feeling as soon as he walked in."
For the Redskins, the selection of Campbell isn't without risk. The team made a pre-draft trade with Denver for an additional first-round pick and chose Campbell, who left Taylorsville a heralded high school star, then fizzled at Auburn before a proficient senior season rekindled interest in him in the NFL.
Where Joe Gibbs, Washington's coach and team president, saw a potential franchise quarterback because of his athleticism, work habits and maturity, others saw only a raw project unworthy of being selected in the first round.
"When we looked at the film of him" from his senior season at Auburn, said offensive coordinator Don Breaux, "you could see him doing all of the things we ask our quarterbacks to do in pro football: the deep comebacks, the crossing routes, the go routes, the play action, the sprint outs. And with his size [6-foot-5, 223 pounds], we liked the fact that what we saw was he doesn't necessarily have to step into all of the throws, and when there is a push in the pocket he can get out of there and make plays. But I'd say if you're going to pin me down now and say, 'What do I really like the most?' I'd say accuracy, accuracy, accuracy. Now let's see if we can get that at the NFL level."
The expectation within the Redskins organization is that Campbell will be ready to play in the NFL in two years. He will enter his first training camp this summer third on the depth chart behind Patrick Ramsey and Mark Brunell.
But some executives and scouts from other teams wonder if he will develop into more than a capable backup. They worry that his senior season was something of an aberration given the abundance of talent on Auburn's undefeated team.
Campbell was not projected to be more than a second-round pick among draft experts, and one AFC general manager who declined to be identified so as not to impact future relations with the Redskins, said, "He'll be a rote player for at least two years."
Some scouts are skeptical about Campbell's ability to read complex NFL defenses and to learn to hit secondary receivers. Teams were worried about his score on the Wonderlic test, an exam given to NFL players to test their cognitive skills in which quarterbacks are expected to score particularly high.
"My biggest worry with Campbell was with the mental aspect," said one AFC team executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We think it would have taken him a long time to learn our system."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers personnel executive Doug Williams, the former Redskins quarterback, said he was not surprised Washington picked him. Tampa Bay's coaching staff worked with Campbell during the Senior Bowl.
"We were very impressed with Jason," Williams said. "It's hard not to be when a guy is that big and nimble. The kid went 31-8 in college with four different [offensive] coordinators. Check the kid's record: He had no bad stats. We had a number of good conversations and I can tell you he has enough poise and charisma to make it happen. He has all of the tools to make it happen."
Longtime college coach Jackie Sherrill, who has watched Campbell closely since he was in middle school and coached his brother, Larry, at Mississippi State, said Campbell is a combination of Williams and Joe Gilliam, Terry Bradshaw's predecessor as quarterback with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s and the third black starting quarterback in NFL history.
"Everybody is questioning Washington about this selection, but they may be smarter than all of them," Sherrill said. "Joe [Gibbs] has time to develop him, and now he's not going to have to go out and get another quarterback, and you can't put a price on that."
Campbell's throwing prowess was on display in early May, when he lit up Washington's rookie camp. But the real work begins now, at the team's offseason spring training sessions that are under way at Redskins Park.
"What we're kind of looking at now," Gibbs said, "is how does he handle starting all over again with a new system and new players."