Campbell Shows Poise Under Pressure

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2007

While most of his teammates already had left the visitors' locker room at Lambeau Field last Sunday, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell remained seated at his dressing stall, taking a few minutes to review all that went wrong in a 17-14 loss to Green Bay.

His headset malfunctioned again, making it harder to communicate with the coaching staff, the makeshift offensive line suffered two more injuries and the wide receivers had an off day, leaving Campbell with little help offensively as the Redskins squandered a 14-7 halftime lead. But by the time Campbell prepared to board the team bus, his focus shifted to what he could do to help the Redskins put things in order again.

"From what I've seen of Jason, you're not going to see him start walking around hanging his head or panicking," left guard Pete Kendall said. "He's not going to look at what someone else isn't doing . . . he's going to focus on what he can do better. That's just who he is, and that's one of the reasons why he's so important to this team."

Despite only 12 career starts, Campbell has been a rock for the inconsistent Redskins, coaches and players said, providing production and leadership in the sport's most high-profile position. Campbell already has exceeded Coach Joe Gibbs's high expectations, overcoming the unexpected turnover on the offensive line and an unproductive running game in leading Washington to a 3-2 start. Adjusting to the scrutiny that accompanies playing quarterback for the Redskins, however, has been difficult at times for Campbell, who will be under the microscope even more now.

After a shaky second-half performance against the Packers, the Redskins play Arizona on Sunday at FedEx Field. If needed, Campbell said he's ready to shoulder more of the load.

"With all the injuries we have to our offensive line right now, it's tough, so I probably need to put a little bit more on my shoulders," he said. "It's not just about one guy, you need every guy on the team to pick each other up, but I also know what this team expects from me."

Campbell, 25, has done his part to stir optimism among Redskins fans after the team's 5-11 flop last season, completing 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,086 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has rushed for 86 yards on 18 carries (a 4.8-yard average) and one touchdown. Campbell only has a middle-of-the pack 81.1 passer rating, but that statistic doesn't illustrate his importance to the team, the Redskins said.

"I'm just really proud of Jason," Gibbs said. "He's done everything we've asked him to do, and he's handled it really well. Of all the things I have to worry about right now, Jason isn't one of them."

The health of the offensive line is among Gibbs's main concerns, and Campbell is monitoring the situation closely, too.

The unit has been in flux since starting right tackle Jon Jansen broke his leg in the opener and was lost for the season. Right guard Randy Thomas tore his triceps in the second game, and he hopes to return in December.

Then against the Packers, center Casey Rabach and right tackle Todd Wade, Jansen's replacement, suffered groin injuries and sat out most of the second half. When backup tackle Stephon Heyer injured his hamstring late in the fourth quarter, Wade, who could barely move, returned to the game for the last few plays.

Rabach and Wade said they plan to play against Arizona. Heyer's status is unclear.

All the reshuffling along the line has adversely affected the running game. The Redskins are 21st in the league, with an average of 3.7 yards per rush, well below the 4.8-yard average Gibbs and Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense, would prefer.

The Redskins only had 33 yards on 12 carries in the second half at Green Bay. Campbell was sacked three times in the game and faced constant pressure after halftime.

"It's kind of petrifying," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense. "I look at our great quarterback . . . we can't afford to get him hit like that."

Playing on a slick field in the mist, Campbell completed 21 of 37 passes for 217 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He made sharp throws, but his receivers dropped many balls.

Gibbs was encouraged by Campbell's passing "because some [quarterbacks] struggle in bad weather," he said. "I thought Jason did an outstanding job. That's good news for us."

Twice this season, Campbell has had to adjust quickly because of problems with communications equipment. After his headset malfunctioned late in the first half of a 20-12 victory over Philadelphia on Sept. 17, Campbell threw a touchdown pass to tight end Chris Cooley on the Redskins' final drive before halftime. He also continued to run the offense well against Green Bay while Bill Lazor, the quarterbacks coach, relayed the plays using hand signals.

"The man's been playing like he's been in the league for about five or six years," fullback Mike Sellers said. "And he's not acting, that's just the way he is. He's got the patience and the poise to do what he has to do to get the job done, so I'm not surprised at all. Not even remotely."

Campbell's steady approach in the pocket and locker room has impressed teammates, especially those charged with his protection. Of course, Campbell could use more help, and the running game is an area in need of improvement.

"It puts pressure on him when we can't run the ball, and it also puts pressure on the offensive line," right guard Jason Fabini said. "Jason has done a great job; we know we've got to run the ball."

Campbell has not complained about how the line's problems have affected his performance, but those closest to him on the team acknowledge the situation "makes it a little harder for him," Sellers said. "We might be running a little low on offensive linemen, but Jason still has confidence in his linemen."

Said backup center Mike Pucillo: "There's always pressure on the starting quarterback. He gets the blame and a lot of the praise, and it's definitely harder for him now."

As the player who directs the offense, Campbell understands his every action will be dissected each week in the media and by the Redskins' fans. But Campbell was stung by criticism of his performance after the Redskins squandered a two-touchdown lead in a 24-17 loss to the New York Giants on Sept. 23.

Campbell completed only seven of 18 passes for 76 yards after halftime as Washington's offense stalled. Overall, he went 16 for 34 for 190 yards and one touchdown.

"Everybody wants to criticize me when we lose," he said. "I went back and watched the film, and I didn't have a bad game. There were a couple of plays you wish you had back, but I didn't lose the game. We lost the game as a team -- offense, defense and special teams.

"People were starting to panic and we were 2-1. We're not even peaking yet. We still have a lot of improvement to go in a long season. If you're peaking early in the season . . . you'd rather be peaking in November, December. We have had a lot of injuries, but I have confidence in this team."

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