By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006
When Washington Redskins associate head coach Al Saunders studies tape of quarterback Jason Campbell, part of him must wish he could keep a thumb pressed on the fast-forward button. Saunders is enthused by Campbell's unflappable presence, resiliency and talent, and envisions great things for him in the future. But to get there, nearly everything Campbell does from the moment he hits the huddle must be sped up, Saunders said.
The Redskins need to simplify things enough to give Campbell the best chance to succeed over the last three games of the season while also identifying and correcting the flaws in his technique that must be refined for long-term success, Saunders said. The coaches cannot overload Campbell with too much information, and they admit it is hardly ideal to groom a young quarterback on the fly.
"You start with his feet and we've said that since training camp, and move up," said Saunders, who oversees the Redskins' offense. "His drops have got to be quicker, his rhythm has got to be quicker, his release has got to be more compact, his decision-making process has got to speed up. He's a victim of his own great physical ability. In high school, he could stand back and wait for a receiver to get open and the velocity of the ball would get there before a little guy who just came from chemistry class could go and break it up. And he played against Vanderbilt [in college], and he's flushed out of the pocket and throws downfield and the ball gets there before the nuclear physicist two years down the road can get there.
"In this league, throw a route like he did there [in Sunday's loss] coming out of the end zone, and if you're a tick late the [defensive back] knocks it down. So everything is a speeded-up process. His mechanics and techniques need to be speeded up, and that'll all come. It's hard to work on things like that during the course of the season."
Campbell has been at the mercy of others since being drafted 25th overall in 2005. He was the No. 3 quarterback for half the season, doing little beyond running the scout team. He never practiced with the first team, ran the opposing offense rather than Washington's and was adjusting to his sixth straight year dating from college with a new offense and new offensive coordinator.
He is a willing and eager worker, coaches say, and, more than anything else, is desperate to get to work with the same coaches and personnel through the offseason. Hearing Coach Joe Gibbs say earlier this week that he planned to keep Saunders next year encouraged Campbell.
"It would be the first time I'm going into a second year with the same coach and people around me, so that should be fun," Campbell said. "I don't even want to think about any changes, because it always seems to happen when you think it's not going to. I don't even want to think about learning another new offense. I really hope I don't have to, because Coach Saunders has some great stuff."
Saunders is stressing that Campbell should spend as much time as possible around his receivers and at Redskins Park. In the offseason, Campbell is planning to fly to Miami to work with Santana Moss at least once, and wants to get a group of teammates to join him for an offseason passing camp that Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb conducts at his Arizona home. Saunders's offense calls for the passer to trust his targets, releasing the ball quickly and into a window downfield before the receiver actually gets there; Campbell has been slow to get the ball to receivers many times and is feeling his way through the process.
"That's something we're going to talk about in the offseason," Campbell said. "Even if you don't see the receiver, sometimes you just have to know he's going to be in that spot, in that area. And that comes with being in the offseason for a while and being in there for a long time. It's like I said to Santana. The other day I couldn't see him on that one play, but when we get to the point where we continue to work better, then I'll just know he's there."
Moss said: "I think that'll probably be a little better leading into next season. By then we'll really have a grasp of him. But right now he's just doing what he has to do to go out there and give us a chance to make plays."
Campbell can make plays others cannot, but the Redskins want him to be sound fundamentally as well. Sometimes he has taken as many as nine steps back before getting rid of the ball, and coaches spent one week harping on his first step out from under center. Campbell's looping delivery, which can allow a defender an extra split second to reach him, is something the coaches will look at as well.
Gibbs said he does not consider the prolonged delivery to be a significant issue, although there is always room for small adjustments and Campbell has echoed those thoughts. "Right now I feel very comfortable with the way I'm throwing," he said. "I don't feel like it's affecting any of my throws and my ability to get it there. I probably make up for a lot of it because I have a strong arm."
Saunders believes that in the offseason Campbell can tweak the process slightly -- not enough to affect his accuracy or alter his natural throwing motion -- to ensure the ball gets away more quickly.
"He'll come along in that regard," Saunders said. "He's not as elongated as say [Jacksonville's] Byron Leftwich is, and he's not as compact as Peyton Manning. Somewhere in there will be his stroke to hit singles all the time instead of going for the fences all the time. That's part of his development process."
This week's game will be particularly memorable for Campbell, as the Redskins visit New Orleans, a 90-minute drive from his home town of Taylorsville, Miss. Campbell, who is completing 51.6 percent of his passes with 6 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and a 68.8 passer rating, expects 30 to 50 friends and family members to attend the game.
"That's the only time all year I'm really going to get that close to them," Campbell said. "It's an opportunity to come out and support you and watch you play. Of course, you want to go down there and do the best you can do for them and for your teammates, and we need everything we can get right now."