Now Starting, A Glimmer of Hope

Jason Campbell takes the field before his first NFL start, in which he completed 19 of 34 passes for 196 yards.
Jason Campbell takes the field before his first NFL start, in which he completed 19 of 34 passes for 196 yards. "The future is bright, but it'll take a little time," Campbell said. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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By Thomas Boswell
Monday, November 20, 2006

TAMPA Jason Campbell is just fine. Unfortunately, the rest of 'em still stink.

In the midst of another galling loss, this one a 20-17 defeat to the lowly Bucs on Sunday, the Redskins finally saw the first clear flicker of starlight leading them toward their future. That glow is still a ways off. But at least you can see it without a telescope.

The Redskins now have a kid quarterback with some poise, wheels and a rifle. He can avoid a rush, roll out of the pocket and throw across his body through traffic or he can drop back and wing it 60 yards directly between the hands of Brandon Lloyd. Not that Lloyd will catch it. Campbell can buy time in the red zone with his feet until he can find his third receiver, then zing the ball to the only available spot for a touchdown, as he did to Chris Cooley and Todd Yoder.

Despite making his debut on the road, Campbell can even complete 19 of 34 passes for 196 yards without an interception, take hits in the pocket without a fumble and run the offense without a single timeout caused by chaos or a delay-of-game penalty. The short version: Campbell ran the offense as well without Clinton Portis and Santana Moss as Mark Brunell did with them.

Now, the Redskins have a spry 24-year-old first-round pick who makes you smile when you see Brunell, 36, and Todd Collins, 35 -- because you realize they are sitting harmlessly, examining photos of defensive formulations to help Campbell decide where to put the ball.

"Jason had a real good first outing," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "He handled things well, including the two-minute drill at the end. The game plan was cautious, but he had a lot [of plays] in there. He was real calm. We have a lot to build on there."

So that's the good news. There's plenty of bad, especially more putrid defense. But at least Gibbs doesn't have to wake up screaming. That is, if he can sleep at all after a game in which a 3-7 team manhandled both his offensive and defensive lines. However, when you have a gentlemanly, coachable 6-foot-4, 230-pound cannon at quarterback, there's always another Sunday.

"The future is bright, but it'll take a little time," Campbell said. "I didn't feel any pressure. I felt comfortable all day. Right now it doesn't seem like it but I guarantee you we are headed in the right direction."

That right direction may not arrive tomorrow or even this season because all young quarterbacks -- even the best -- come unglued many times during a multiseason learning process. At crucial moments over the final six Redskins games, Campbell will think he's playing a malevolent video game that's suddenly been turned to warp speed. Into that indecipherable blur he will have to rifle a third-down pass and hope it doesn't produce disaster.

But someday, if all goes well, he'll recognize more and more of what he sees. Then he'll make men like Ronde Barber pay for their insolence. "The theme of the day really was just put pressure on the kid. . . . We tried to blitz, give him as many looks as we could," Barber said after the Bucs held the Redskins to 63 yards in the first half. "I'll give him some credit. He played well, especially in the second half. He seemed like he got it together a little bit, had a little more control of the offense and moved around a little bit."

Unfortunately for the 3-7 Redskins, the most expensive team in the NFL has far bigger problems than a novice quarterback. It's the other burgundy-and-gold recidivists who are the issue. How can a healthy Washington defense allow Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, in a slump all season, to run like a Bentley? Facing a rookie quarterback (Bruce Gradkowski) who won't throw much, how do you allow 181 yards rushing? Facing a defense without its two best linemen, Simeon Rice and Ellis Wyms, how do you gain only 64 yards rushing, even if you don't have Clinton Portis? What went wrong?

"Rewind the tape. It's been the same story all season," fullback Mike Sellers said. "We were supposed to have [Campbell's] back and we didn't."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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