Playing Off Line Gives QB More Time

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 2008

As they reviewed the tape together, Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn and quarterback Jason Campbell separately reached the same conclusion: Campbell was more effective in the shotgun formation than under center in Thursday's 16-7 season-opening loss to the New York Giants at Giants Stadium. The Redskins could work out of the shotgun more often if Campbell preferred, Zorn said before their meeting ended Friday, and Campbell eagerly accepted the offer.

"I was really happy to hear him say that, because I like the shotgun," Campbell said. "The shotgun gives me the chance to do some different things than when you're under center. Right now, we're all still learning this new offense and adjusting to it, so anything that can help us get to where we want to be, I'm all for it."

Washington is experiencing growing pains in its transition to Zorn's version of the West Coast offense. Despite producing only 209 yards of total offense and converting 3 of 13 third down chances against the Giants, the Redskins remain confident in Zorn's spread scheme that features many three- and four-receiver sets, players said. But they acknowledged it could be a while before things runs smoothly. Campbell being comfortable is among the keys to success, and running more plays from the shotgun could help him.

"Everybody in here [the locker room] has confidence in JC and the things he can do every time he goes out there," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "But we're all learning this new offense together, not just JC, so we've all got to help each other, and the coaches, too. If there's something that JC likes to do, and he's good at doing, then it makes sense to do it."

Overall against the Giants, Campbell completed 15 of 27 passes for 133 yards and one touchdown (on a 12-yard pass to Moss shortly before halftime). In the shotgun, however, Campbell went 10 of 15 for 99 yards. Under center, he had five completions in 12 attempts for 34 yards and the touchdown.

The Redskins often sputtered offensively when Zorn, Washington's play-caller, called passing formations that had Campbell starting under center and using a three-step drop, which is a staple of the West Coast offense. Campbell struggled to locate Moss and No. 2 wideout Antwaan Randle El (each is listed at 5 feet 10) on short and intermediary routes, which disrupted the quick, rhythmic cadence of Zorn's style.

Campbell said that when Zorn called shotgun plays -- including on 13 of Campbell's final 21 attempts in the second half: "I just felt more confident. The receivers can see me better and I can see them better. Sometimes, trying to see the receivers while you're looking through the linemen, you just can't see 'em."

Campbell said the increased distance from the line of scrimmage, and not having to release the ball as quickly as he would in a three-step drop, enables him to see the shorter routes develop and to find the throwing lanes. "But we can't go from a shotgun all the time," he said. "Some plays are just designed to start under center, and defenses would start keying on certain things if you tried to do it all the time.

"You'd have to start running out of the shotgun to keep the defense guessing, and that's not really what this offense is set up to do. Down and distance are really going to determine when we can use it, and the feel of the game, too. Coach Zorn is going to leave it up to me to decide, but it has to work in the offense. It can't be outside of what we're trying to do, and it won't be, it's just something that can help us get into the things that we want to do . . . until we get everything down as a group."

Some scouts and executives believe Campbell is a poor fit for the West Coast offense, with his size (he is 6-5) and skills favoring seven-steps drops and more deep throws. Although Zorn has repeatedly discounted the notion that Campbell might not be suited for his offense, he has been candid since the beginning of offseason workouts in his assessment of how long it would take Campbell to grasp the scheme. "It's not the type of thing you learn overnight," Zorn said recently.

Pro Bowl passer Matt Hasselbeck was "wild" in his first season in Seattle with Zorn as quarterbacks coach, Zorn said, even though Hasselbeck had spent four years as a backup in the same system in Green Bay. Zorn is confident Campbell possesses the talent to be effective in the offense, and many of Campbell's teammates are as well.

"I don't think [being] tall and long has anything to do with" being effective in an offense, Randle El said. "You grasp the offense, you get going in an offense and you do well in it. He's shown he can do well in it. The other day just wasn't his day. That's the best way to look at it."

In part because of poor pass protection, Campbell completed only 7 of 14 passes for 42 yards in Washington's last two preseason games. In parts of five preseason games, Campbell completed 59 percent of his passes for 202 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He had a 70.7 passer rating.

"Patience. That's what we need right now," Campbell said. "It's a big change from what we used to do, and we're all working hard to learn the system and get it down as a whole group, but it's going to take time.

"How much time? I don't know. But I know that we're all in this together. No one is pointing fingers or blaming anybody. We're just going to continue to keep working at it and trying to get better together."

Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.

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