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A Gunner and a Target

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By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 7, 2008

Channel surfing on his car radio last week, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell stopped when he heard his name. The Redskins were the topic on a sports talk call-in show and Campbell was the focus.

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"Some guy [called in and] said, 'Well, if the Redskins start out 1-4, do you throw [backup quarterback] Todd Collins in there?' I just started laughing," Campbell said after a recent practice at Redskins Park. "I thought to myself, 'Darn, you're basically throwing me under the bus by saying it's a one-man show.' It's not a one-man show. It's a team game. What if I play great games and we still don't win? So that's still all on me? I guess that's just the way it is for me."

Beginning his second full season as a starter, Campbell, 26, acknowledged that many Redskins fans have concerns about him. On talk radio and Internet message boards, Redskins supporters question whether Campbell has the mental makeup to become a championship-caliber quarterback. And there is strong support for Collins, who played a key role in the four-game winning streak that resulted in a playoff berth.

Campbell does not troll message boards or stay glued to sports talk radio, he said, but the Redskins' standing atop the sports world in the area makes it hard to tune out completely.

With Jim Zorn in his rookie season as a head coach, a new offense and Washington facing its three NFC East opponents on the road in the first five games, Campbell will be under the microscope from the outset even more than usual for a Redskins quarterback. A strong start could spur Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to begin contract negotiations with Campbell's agent. If Campbell struggles, however, Zorn, Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations, might make a change quickly after Collins's impressive performance down the stretch last season.

Campbell understands the situation and said he expects to have a breakthrough season in his fourth year in the NFL. But he seems irked about being considered a weak link by some.

"People have really made me the goat since last season," Campbell said. "People were saying I was one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, but then I hurt my knee and I was out the rest of the year. The team wins four games, goes to the playoffs and now I'm the goat.

"If things don't go right, I'm to blame. I can already see I'm to blame for everything, so I'm not trying to worry about anything. I'm just going to go out and have a Pro Bowl-type season and let everything ride."

The Campbell-Collins situation has been the elephant in the room for Washington's offense since the team clinched its playoff berth. The Redskins were 5-7 and on a four-game losing streak when Campbell's season was cut short by a dislocated left kneecap Dec. 6 in a 24-16 victory over Chicago. Collins, 36, led the Redskins to all their points in that game and to victories over the New York Giants, Minnesota and Dallas.

Collins received high marks from coaches and players for his performance in helping Washington clinch only its third playoff appearance in 15 seasons. He struggled in the playoff loss to Seattle, but Snyder and Cerrato had seen enough. Re-signing Collins was their main goal in free agency this offseason. Zorn traveled to Quincy, Mass., to woo Collins the day before free agents could sign.

Collins, who strongly considered signing with Jacksonville, returned to the Redskins for a three-year, $9 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus. Campbell, who has two more years remaining on his rookie contract, will have a base salary of $1,235,000 this season.

When Zorn met with Collins in February, he told him Campbell would be the starter, Zorn said. Early in the offseason, Zorn publicly committed to Campbell. "Last year was last year, this is a new year," Collins said. "Sure, I'd like to [start], but I knew what the situation was when I came back. I just have to stay ready, which is what I've done for my whole career."


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