Keeping Sights on Long Term, Campbell Takes It Day by Day

Redskins starting quarterback Jason Campbell received assurance from Coach Joe Gibbs that the former first-round pick would be key to the offense.
Redskins starting quarterback Jason Campbell received assurance from Coach Joe Gibbs that the former first-round pick would be key to the offense. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 10, 2006

An hour after completing the most disappointing game of his fledgling career, Jason Campbell was called into Joe Gibbs's office at FedEx Field. The Washington Redskins' 24-14 loss to Atlanta last Sunday, punctuated by two interceptions from the second-year quarterback, effectively quashed whatever playoff hopes remained for the team. But Gibbs's words left Campbell more enthused than ever about his future.

For 20 minutes, Campbell and the Hall of Fame coach chatted, and for the first time Gibbs explicitly told him that his apprenticeship was more than a half-season audition.

"Coach said, 'You're our guy, you're going to be here and we're going to try to build things around you,' " Campbell said. "He feels like we have all the pieces to the puzzle on offense here, and we just have to put them together. Coach said, 'We're in a new offense right now, but going into next season I'll have all the reps in [spring practices] and the whole offseason to get used to everybody.' "

After going nearly two years between his final college game at Auburn and first NFL appearance, Campbell was elated. Gibbs had seen enough in Campbell's first three starts to commit to shaping the team around the former first-round pick. Gibbs reminded Campbell that future Hall of Famers such as Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts struggled early in their careers, and told him he was faring well by comparison.

Campbell accommodated nearly a dozen television interview requests after his postgame news conference, then went to dinner with his parents and cousin before heading home to Lansdowne.

He largely avoided the Sunday night game on television, even though it featured Denver's Jay Cutler, another young quarterback making his NFL debut. Campbell said he sulked for a while, still miffed about some errant throws. "I kind of kept to myself, nagging myself after the loss, putting all the blame on myself," he said.

But Gibbs's words resonated in his head. Looking ahead to today's game against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field, Campbell began a week of preparation he may never forget. For the first time in his two years in Washington, Campbell could contemplate the future confident that his tenure would extend beyond the conclusion of the 2006 season.

MONDAY

The feeling was familiar but distant, a pain he had avoided his first 27 games as a professional. Campbell sat in bed calculating where the aches came from -- his back, ribs and shoulders -- then got dressed for work.

"That was rough, you're still hurting all over," Campbell said. "The guys all said, 'Welcome to the NFL.' You're beat up on Monday. You can't move for a while, especially after a loss."

After making the 10-minute drive to Redskins Park in Ashburn, Campbell met privately with associate head coach Al Saunders in his office. Saunders reinforced many of the same themes as Gibbs. "We talked a long time about how this is just the beginning, and there are a lot of phases to your development," Saunders said. "One is physical, one is mental and one is psychological, and all those things together make what he'll be 10 years down the road. Jason has done a terrific job so far. A lot of things on the football field in the game, he will improve on with experience, and I'm so proud of him already."

Later that morning, Campbell, fellow quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Todd Collins and their position coach, Bill Lazor, reviewed film of Sunday's game, dissecting Campbell's performance. The coaches met with the entire offense, and Campbell met individually with Lazor before returning home.

"We always have alone time to watch really specific techniques," Lazor said. "For Jason, Monday is time to deal with performance and evaluation."


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