By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 22, 2007
It wasn't about making demands or issuing ultimatums. That's not how Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell does things. But Campbell did push for the team to consider signing his former college teammate and friend, wide receiver Anthony Mix, who was added to the roster Tuesday.
Campbell's assertive move off the field coincides with his expanding role in the Redskins' offense. With Washington trying to emerge from a crowded pack in the NFC and earn its first playoff berth since the 2005 season, Coach Joe Gibbs has put more on the young quarterback's shoulders, and Campbell has responded. His production has increased since Gibbs and Al Saunders, the associate head coach-offense, recently opened up the game plan, although the Redskins have lost their last two games and three of the last four.
On Sunday, Campbell will return to the site of his first NFL start as the Redskins (5-5) face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4) at Raymond James Stadium. A third-year pro, Campbell has made strides in running the offense and leading the team since replacing Mark Brunell as the starter in Week 10 of last season, but Campbell says he is focused on the team's performance. The Redskins have six games remaining, and Campbell is determined to help them sprint to the finish.
"It's all about the team game. This is a team sport," Campbell said yesterday at Redskins Park. "You know you have a lot to learn when you're a young quarterback, but at the same time you're trying to do everything you can to help lead the team to the playoffs. I'm the type of guy who could go out there and throw for five touchdowns, but if we lose, it's like you didn't throw for any. I feel like there are other plays I can make. I always feel like there's something else I can do to help us win."
Lobbying for Mix was part of that process. In part because of Campbell's strong recommendation, the Redskins acquired Mix, formerly on the New York Giants' practice squad. At 6 feet 5, 235 pounds, Mix is as tall as Campbell, his former Auburn teammate, and the biggest of the wide receivers on the roster.
With wide receiver James Thrash recovering from a high-ankle sprain, Gibbs sought players with the potential to replace Thrash in some of the team's jumbo packages -- formations that include only one wide receiver usually for run-blocking purposes -- and Mix could join the competition to become the primary No. 3 wideout. Starters Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El have been slowed much of the season because of injuries, contributing to Washington's season-long auditions at the position.
Veterans Reche Caldwell and Keenan McCardell were signed early in the season. The little-used Caldwell has been inactive in five of nine games with the team. McCardell has played well when given opportunities, but at 37, he is not in the Redskins' long-term plans. Injured wide receiver Brandon Lloyd is not expected to return next season, so the Redskins signed Mix, who was undrafted in 2006 and signed with the Giants as a free agent. He had three receptions for 39 yards in four games for the Giants.
Campbell acknowledged he spoke with team officials about Mix but played down his involvement "in the whole thing," he said. "They just asked me what I thought and I told them. I don't ever try to tell the coaches what to do. But if they ask for my opinion about something that can help the team, help us win, then I'm going to give it to them."
Some of his teammates, however, have noticed subtle changes in Campbell, who has exhibited more confidence since Gibbs and Saunders took off the handcuffs in a 33-25 loss to Philadelphia on Nov. 11. Campbell was sharp in Washington's first extended use of the no-huddle offense this season. He completed 23 of 34 passes for 215 yards and a personal-best three touchdowns with no interceptions.
In last week's 28-23 loss to Dallas, the Redskins took many deep shots downfield. Campbell passed for a career-high 348 yards (his first 300-yard game) and two touchdowns with one interception.
"His confidence is growing a little bit more," Randle El said. "He's always been confident, always been very unique in the way that he handles the huddle and always very calm out there. But these last couple of weeks, it's like he's said to himself, 'This is really becoming my deal.' He definitely likes it and Coach [Gibbs] likes it. Hopefully, we'll be able to keep on doing it."
The rest of the league has noticed Campbell's development.
"He's really grown up a lot in the last year," Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden said in a conference call. "He's seeing things. He's just so much quicker. He's playing the position so much faster, more assertively and confidently. It's just visible to see. With that comes tremendous growth. That's the big thing. He's playing the position with authority."
Said Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, "He's definitely leading his team right now."
Campbell took the reins for the first time in a 20-17 loss to the Buccaneers on Nov. 19, 2006. He completed 19 of 34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. Campbell started the final seven games and passed for 1,297 yards. He had 10 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and a 76.5 passer rating.
"It seems like it wasn't that long ago, but it's been a year already," Campbell said. "It goes to show you how much things can turn in a year. The main thing I enjoyed about that game was that it gave me an opportunity to see where I was at as a second-year quarterback."
Through the first 10 games this season, Campbell has 2,083 yards passing, with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has an 80.7 passer rating and "his footwork is very noticeably improved," Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber said in a conference call. "He's got a grasp, a little bit better grasp, of this offense. They're doing a lot more with him than what we saw last year. He's come a long way."
Apparently, Campbell's relationship with Gibbs has grown, too. Campbell, 25, and the old-school Hall of Fame coach have worked well together, Campbell said, and their ability to communicate helped to diffuse a potentially controversial situation yesterday.
While taking questions from callers on Redskins Radio on Tuesday, Gibbs was informed Campbell had expressed satisfaction that an audible he called led to a 35-yard completion to Moss (he made a dazzling one-handed catch) in the third quarter against Dallas. Gibbs sounded displeased that Campbell had discussed team strategy and told the show's hosts: "Jason shouldn't have said that. Kind of stupid on Jason's part." And Gibbs, a few seconds later, added, "Keep your trap shut, Jason."
But Gibbs wasn't upset with Campbell. "I was joking," Gibbs said after practice yesterday. "That's happened to me a bunch. One of the bad things about being a coach is, after a while when you see all of that and it happens to you, you get so defensive and you pull in so far. I told Jason I was joking."
Gibbs's explanation was good enough for Campbell, who said he appreciates the coach's support.
Washington has lost four games in which it led at halftime. Campbell was overcome with emotion after Dallas rallied for the victory Sunday, crying after the game.
"People wanted to know why I felt bad after last week's game. I felt bad because two weeks in a row, if we had beaten Philly and Dallas, we would have been in a much better position," he said. "I was so upset with anger. I wasn't crying, I had tears in my eyes because I was upset with anger that we had so many opportunities and we keep letting games slip away. It's not about my individual efforts. I don't care about that. I just want to win."