Campbell Erratic, But Shows Poise

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By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 20, 2006

Quarterback Jason Campbell played roughly a half of football last night, enough to display the full spectrum of his development. There was his erratic first drive, when the second-year pro misfired on his first pass and sent his second attempt into the hands of New York Jets defensive back David Barrett. Then came his gutsy second possession, when he adjusted to the blitz and completed passes to wide receivers David Patten and James Thrash on a march to tie the score at 7 at FedEx Field.

After both series, Campbell immediately was counseled by Bill Lazor. For much of the night they were planted next to each other on the sideline, the rookie quarterback coach and his novice pupil, recounting the proceedings. Campbell, 24, continued to make strides in his adjustment to the NFL and first-year associate head coach Al Saunders's complex timing offense in particular, looking more poised and confident than he was a year ago.

Every move Campbell makes will be scrutinized as he competes against veteran Todd Collins (who found rookie tight end Buck Ortega on a 30-yard touchdown pass last night) to back up starter Mark Brunell. Last night was Campbell's first shot as the No. 2 passer -- Collins filled that role last weekend in Cincinnati -- and he took advantage of the more established wide receivers at his disposal this time, leading Washington on its first trip to the end zone this preseason.

Campbell, whom Coach Joe Gibbs coveted so much he dealt three picks, including a first-rounder, to move up and take him 25th overall last year, entered the game early in the second quarter and departed early in the fourth of a 27-14 loss.

"I think he's really improved," assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel said. "That whole second [offensive] unit played so much better than they did in the first game. Jason can make plays. He's going to be a really good quarterback. I really believe that."

A week ago Campbell displayed an ability to spot secondary options and make well-timed deliveries to the perimeter. But last night he struggled with turnovers, the nemesis of young quarterbacks, and finished 6 of 13 for 83 yards.

Campbell's final throw in Cincinnati was intercepted easily, and when his first drive last night ended with another, he had turned over the ball twice in three attempts. Campbell was pressured up the middle, rushed his throw off his back foot and sent the ball well behind wide receiver James Thrash, with Barrett cradling it into his arms.

"The big mistake I made was when they brought the house," Campbell said. "There was a missed assignment, and I should have just thrown the ball away instead of trying to make a play out of nothing. I learned from that mistake."

If the error rattled him, it never showed.

Campbell got the ball back and quickly hit Patten near the sideline for 15 yards. Campbell stayed calm with the blitz coming again on the next play, getting rid of the ball under pressure and hitting Thrash in the flat to the 1. (Cartwright ran it in from there.)

Campbell's night might have been more productive had the Jets not mounted a 12-minute scoring drive in the third quarter, had Patten not dropped a key third-down pass, and if rookie Mike Espy had caught a couple of balls.

"When you play quarterback you have to have a short memory," said Campbell, who is 14 of 28 for 182 yards in the preseason with a 41.1 passer rating. "When I threw the pick I was like, 'It's not the end of the night. You can still come back and make some plays and get us back in the game.' After that, I felt like the game came to me."


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