By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Twenty-eight games into his NFL career, Jason Campbell will make his first start at quarterback Sunday in Tampa, with Mark Brunell demoted to the backup role.
Campbell, who was selected 25th overall in the 2005 draft, has been listed as inactive for 27 straight games as a Redskin. Brunell, who has started every game dating from Week 2 last season, including two playoff games, has struggled this season. At FedEx Field, fans have been screaming for Campbell to replace Brunell, with the offense producing just 16 touchdowns in nine games.
Coach Joe Gibbs said he agonized over the move and seemed pained at times when speaking about the change during his news conference yesterday at Redskins Park. Gibbs told each of his quarterbacks individually of the decision yesterday afternoon following a full team meeting. It is the third straight season in which Gibbs has made a quarterback change in-season -- Brunell was benched in favor of Patrick Ramsey during the ninth game of the 2004 season, then took over for Ramsey during the opening game last year.
"We want to give Jason every opportunity," Gibbs said. "When we drafted him we felt like we had a very talented person there, and certainly when we give him the starting job we're going to do everything we can to support him, and hopefully it's going to be something that he takes and makes the most of."
Campbell, 24, has waited patiently for his opportunity since the team traded three picks, including a first-rounder, to move up and draft him in 2005. He has worked with the first team only briefly in the preseason and in a handful of practices in recent weeks. He is operating in his sixth offensive system with his sixth offensive coordinator in the last six years, but he has a strong arm and a history of winning in high school and at Auburn. Gibbs refrained from making predictions about how well Campbell might perform, but, with the Redskins' playoff hopes fading, believed the time was right to make the change.
Campbell said he was "shocked" when Gibbs called him into his office and informed him of the change. Campbell has never served as the No. 2 quarterback -- journeyman Todd Collins will now serve in the No. 3 role, Gibbs said -- and said he understood Gibbs's preference for Brunell, given how advanced the offensive coaches are in their careers and the Super Bowl aspirations this team took into the season.
"Basically, he told me it's my job and we're getting ready to go in a new direction," Campbell said. "And I've got to approach it that way, which means extra time watching film and staying after practice with the receivers to make sure we've got our timing down. I've got to get chemistry with the receivers that I haven't been throwing to too much."
Gibbs, a staunch supporter of Brunell's throughout his rocky tenure here, said the change was his decision alone, and made a point of saying the quarterback's play was not responsible for the club's 3-6 record. Even after Brunell's poor showing when he was injured in 2004, Gibbs stood by him, and Brunell responded with one of his best seasons last year, with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Gibbs said the 14-year pro accepted the news yesterday with class and that Brunell would support Campbell.
"We don't know what'll happen there," Gibbs said of Brunell's future. "If he sits back there in that second spot and gets a breath of fresh air and gets rested, I don't know what'll happen in the future."
Sunday's 27-3 loss at Philadelphia highlighted the deficiencies of Washington's passing attack. Brunell, who received an $8.6 million signing bonus and is scheduled to make $5.2 million in 2007, finished with a 49.4 quarterback rating against the Eagles, and threw a game-deciding interception in the second half that was returned for a touchdown. The Redskins have been unable to make plays over the middle of the field or test defenses deep -- areas Campbell said he hopes to excel in -- and receivers are languishing, with just eight passing touchdowns.
"I feel like I can help stretch the field with those downfield throws," Campbell said.
The Redskins join a growing list of teams that have handed the starting job to inexperienced quarterbacks, with Tennessee's Vince Young beating Washington recently just three games into his starting tenure. Like Young and new Dallas starter Tony Romo, who nearly led the Cowboys to a win in Washington two Sundays ago, Campbell brings additional elusiveness and speed to the position, and he expects the coaches to tailor the game plan a bit to his strengths.
"I'm pretty sure there's some things they'll probably do different with me in there than the things they did with Mark, because we're two different kinds of quarterbacks," said Campbell, who called Brunell his mentor and expressed sympathy for his friend.
Washington's quarterback situation has been in flux since 1993, the season after Gibbs retired after winning three Super Bowls with the franchise. No passer has managed to stake a hold to the starting job for even three straight seasons, and turmoil has surrounded the position most years. Campbell becomes the 17th starting quarterback for the Redskins since Gibbs's first tenure ended. Brunell's 33 starts are the second most by any Redskin in that span -- Gus Frerotte has the most (46).
Brunell, who had left Redskins Park by the time Gibbs made the announcement, admitted early yesterday, before being informed of the change, that he had considered his job security recently and that he knew a change was inevitable at some point, given how much the organization has invested in Campbell. He hoped to stave off that reality for as long as possible, but privately knew that his next loss might be his last for at least the remainder of this season.
"On Mondays after a loss it crosses your mind, of course," Brunell said. "But preparing for a game and actually playing the game, it's nowhere on your mind. You go out there to compete and try to win. That's really all you can do, and it's like that for every guy. Every guy each week has to go out and perform" to keep his job.