By Les Carpenter
Monday, November 27, 2006
The kid is cool.
All around the Washington Redskins, players with Pro Bowl pedigrees are making mistakes, rattling with the pressure of a season imploding. They miss tackles, make silly penalties and fumble balls they never should. Their collapse has been astounding.
And then there's the new quarterback. The rookie, the kid who was too fresh, too unsure for them to dare using back when the season mattered, back when the Redskins were losing to world-renowned giants like the Vikings, Titans and Eagles. He has played two games now. He has had a chance to experience Redskins calamities in the face of two of the league's more aggressive defenses.
And this is what they have learned about him.
"Nothing bothers him, ever," fullback Mike Sellers said.
Sitting a couple of feet away, running back Rock Cartwright nodded in solemn affirmation.
"He's real cool," Cartwright said.
Once again yesterday there was reason to worry about the future of the Redskins. Their latest offensive personality change had them going conservative, yet they weren't breaking any big runs, Santana Moss never seemed to get open and Chris Cooley dropped a pass while wide open downfield that might have set up a touchdown. Exactly the frustrations that have devoured quarterbacks here before.
Campbell didn't worry. Which is what impresses the Redskins the most. Because these are the times you never know about a young quarterback. You draft him, you prepare him, you hope he shows some glimmer of understanding. And yet when you actually put him in a game, let him see disaster looming, you never know what he's going to do. With Campbell, apparently nothing seems to fluster him.
"He was bred to play the game," Sellers said.
The moment that sold them yesterday came in the midst of what had been pretty much a dismal day for Campbell. For three quarters, most of his passes had sailed over receivers' heads or bounced at their feet. Once he threw a ball high to Brandon Lloyd, who had to jump to catch it, leaving the wide receiver exposed to the shoulder of Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, who barreled into Lloyd, spinning him in the air and leaving him to tumble to the ground.
Then, with less than five minutes left in the game Campbell waited for a third-down play call. The crowd roared and the voice in his helmet went soft. He heard the formation the coaches wanted but not the play. Those who stood in the huddle with him watched in shock as he put his hands on the side of the helmet, banged them slightly over the ear holes and shook his head.
"I can't hear the play," he told them.
The players stared back.
Then center Casey Rabach remembers someone saying, "Well, just call one."
So he did.
And even then the ensuing touchdown didn't come on the first option -- that was Lloyd, who was covered near the sideline. Instead Campbell waited to throw to Cooley, who cut across the middle, caught the ball, bulled through two tackles and downfield for the score.
"It was probably the play of the game," Carolina Coach John Fox said.
It is, of course, too soon to make great judgments about Campbell. Anointing 24-year-old quarterbacks on the basis of two games is the kind of thing that gets coaches and general managers fired. There still isn't much tape on Campbell; last week's game in Tampa wasn't enough for the Panthers to develop any true understanding of what makes him tick. Does he panic in the face of blitzes? Does he collapse after an interception? Does he get down on himself after throwing incompletions?
Apparently he doesn't do any of those things. At least, not so far. He doesn't scramble needlessly, he seems to think he can complete every pass and was barely affected midway through the fourth quarter when he threw a pass deep down the field for Moss that landed, instead, in the arms of Carolina's Richard Marshall. Never, it seemed, did his expression change.
"It shows you what composure he has and how controlled and calm he is," Rabach said.
He has had as much to prove to his teammates as he does to his coaches. Even though he has been here for 1 1/2 seasons, he almost never practiced with the first team. It was always Mark Brunell who worked out with the starting offensive players, and since Todd Collins was considered Brunell's backup in case of an emergency, Collins took the second set of practice snaps. Brunell was popular in the locker room; the players believed in him even if the fans didn't. Campbell was almost invisible to them.
And as Coach Joe Gibbs and his associate head coach for offense, Al Saunders, inspect Campbell's game, searching for its cracks, the men who matter most, the ones who huddle with him, are looking for the same things. Apparently they haven't found any.
"From the day he got here he's never looked flustered," Gibbs said.
After the game, Campbell dressed slowly. He pulled on a white sweater vest over a large oxford shirt and khaki pants. He looked collegiate. He also looked relaxed, as if he wasn't going to push anything by dressing too well for the occasion. Then he walked casually down the hall to his news conference where he breezily described his first professional victory. When he left, he stood for more than 10 minutes in the hallway, hands in his pockets, chatting with reporters about the details of the helmet radio going out and the receivers who were open and the passes he could have made.
The previous quarterback rarely did this but it wouldn't be fair to just single out Brunell. No quarterback does this. No matter how nice or how accommodating he might be. Quarterbacks today are too hurried, too impatient, too distrustful of the media.
And when the game was over yesterday, when Campbell put his final knee to the ground, Sellers turned around and wrapped him up in a giant bear hug. "Great job! Great poise!" he shouted to Campbell. The quarterback simply nodded.
Just too cool.