By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 23, 2007
No one has published a how-to manual for inexperienced NFL quarterbacks seeking good timing with wide receivers. And you won't find textbooks explaining the nuances of passing while facing bull-rushing defensive linemen and blitzing linebackers. So Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell and his wide receivers will figure it out together.
The Redskins are pleased with Campbell's developing relationship with the receiving corps, coaches said, citing that progress as among the reasons for the 2-0 start. The Redskins face the New York Giants today at FedEx Field.
Despite only nine career starts, Campbell has often appeared in sync with starting wide receivers Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, combining on big plays in victories over Miami and Philadelphia. There also have been bumps, with unfamiliarity between Campbell and the receivers contributing to some incomplete passes and squandered scoring opportunities.
But considering Campbell's limited time with the receivers, coaches said they are pleased.
"Jason's relationship with those guys is at a high level and it'll continue to get better," associate head coach Al Saunders said. "He's still young in his growth with those guys, and every day is another day to work on their consistency and their timing together. I'm excited about where we're going."
Moss and Randle El shared the spotlight in the first two games.
In the season-opening 16-13 overtime victory over the Dolphins, Randle El caught five passes for a career-best 162 yards. He teamed with Campbell on 49- and 54-yard receptions.
Against the Eagles on Monday night, Moss had a game-high 89 yards on six catches -- including a 48-yard reception -- in a 20-12 victory. Randle El was slowed because of cramps (he said he missed several plays while receiving fluids intravenously in the locker room), but had four catches for 44 yards.
Tight end Chris Cooley caught Campbell's only touchdown pass this season. The role of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd continues to shrink each week. Lloyd was held without a catch in the first two games and has yet to score a touchdown in 17 games, including 12 starts, with the Redskins.
Randle El, who replaced Lloyd as a starter late last season, has shown signs of becoming the complementary receiver the Redskins have sought for Moss. Moreover, the team recently signed wide receiver Reche Caldwell, who started for the New England Patriots last season.
Randle El credits Campbell for his fast start this season.
"The relationship . . . it's good. You knew it was going to be good because of how hard we worked in the offseason," he said. "If you look from the first game to the second game, you can see there's progress, and that's the biggest thing you look for. But you're still working on it, so you're still going to miss. You don't want to miss, so you just have to keep going back at it again and again."
Campbell has displayed a knack for evading the rush and making big plays, showing "he's a cool customer," Coach Joe Gibbs said.
Through the first two games, however, Campbell has only a 66.3 passer rating with three interceptions. He has had some trouble with Washington's intermediate timing routes, and mixed results on deep balls.
Against Miami, Campbell missed Moss, who was uncovered, on a deep pass along the right sideline in the second quarter. With the Redskins leading, 20-12, late in the fourth quarter at Philadelphia, Campbell missed Moss, who was wide open again, with a deep pass in the middle of the field.
"You can talk about it and you can think about it, but there's nothing you can do but go out and . . . try to get that same kind of coverage and make that same kind of play," Moss said. "You don't know how it feels to be overthrown until you're running down the field by yourself. You know he has a big arm but when he does it, you'll be like, 'C'mon.' But we're going to work on it and we'll make up for it."
Said Randle El, "Sometimes, the boy just doesn't realize how strong his arm is."
Campbell is his own toughest critic. The offense has the potential to be more productive, he said, and his on-field rapport with the receivers will help to determine the group's effectiveness.
"Sometimes we miss big plays that we should hit, we don't make 'em, but we come back and move on," said Campbell, who has completed 56 percent of his passes. "I just look at it as 2-0. . . . Last season was a difficult position. I come in the middle of the season; you're trying to learn everything.
"This year you kind of know things. I look at it as a fresh start. I feel we're gradually improving, but I've only had nine starts with 'em. We're just beginning."
Campbell played briefly in the preseason because of a knee injury. He might have benefited from additional time with the wide receivers, Saunders said, but their progress from last season is apparent.
"He's only started nine games in the NFL," Saunders said. "If you take a lot of quarterbacks, and see where they were at after eight or nine games, I think we'd be very happy to see Jason doing the things he's doing now."
Campbell completed a momentum-changing 16-yard touchdown pass to Cooley against Philadelphia that impressed Washington's upcoming opponent.
"His poise has been very good," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said. "The time he spent learning how to play, the on-the-job training, certainly looks as if it has paid off."
Even in the first few weeks of the regular season, Campbell has become more comfortable with the wide receivers than he was in his short stint running the offense in 2006, Saunders said.
"Jason and I talk about this all the time," Saunders said. "We can teach the ability to throw the football in a better manner, we can teach the mechanics and all those things on the practice field, but the game gives you that experience working together."