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A Lag in Adjustment to West Coast Time

Jason Campbell, top right, is learning another new scheme under Coach Jim Zorn, top left, one full of short drops and quick passes. This after playing under a wildly divergent scheme of running often to set up long passes under Al Saunders, left, and Joe Gibbs, right.
Jason Campbell, top right, is learning another new scheme under Coach Jim Zorn, top left, one full of short drops and quick passes. This after playing under a wildly divergent scheme of running often to set up long passes under Al Saunders, left, and Joe Gibbs, right. (Zorn Photo By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post; Saunders Photo By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post; Gibbs Photo By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jason Campbell isn't as bad a mismatch for the West Coast offense as he has seemed so far. Nobody could be.

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The fourth-year quarterback is too talented and too dedicated to have many games where he looks as utterly ill-suited to his offensive system, as indecisive and ineffective as he was in the first 54 minutes of the Redskins' 16-7 loss to the Giants in Washington's opener.

But it's not too early to start wondering whether a 6-foot-5, strong-armed passer who was drafted by Joe Gibbs to run a maximum-protection, lock-on-one-receiver, rush-to-set-up-the-bomb offense, is fundamentally ill-suited to Jim Zorn's quick-drop, see-the-field-fast, super-accurate-passing offense. You could hardly design two attacks that required more dissimilar skill sets.

Campbell, who's had to learn seven offensive schemes in his college and pro career, faces a huge task. It's amazing he doesn't come to the line, call a Gibbs play in an Al Saunders formation with a Zorn snap count, then scream, "I give up."

So, Redskins fans should have patience. (Pause.) Okay, that didn't work. How about optimism? Let's try that.

Campbell is not always going to look antsy in a three-step-drop offense and be inconsistent on short throws. Or at least he won't be as poor at it as he, and his outplayed offensive line, were against New York when he had only 49 yards passing after 54 minutes and ran an offense that had just four snaps inside the Giants 30-yard line.

The Redskins won't always have three penalties before they get off a snap. Or fail to complete a pass until 1 minute 10 seconds before halftime. Or have five completions that result in losses of possession since those passes didn't gain enough for first downs. Someday, the Redskins will even install a normal NFL hurry-up offense.

Things will get better because you can't set the bar much lower. However, one game, which gets more ugly every time you watch it, does open for valid discussion every question about Campbell in the West Coast.

One fact is most telling: In desperation, the Redskins eventually let Campbell operate from the shotgun, a formation Zorn disdains but one in which Campbell is comfortable. In the gun, he completed 10 of 15 passes for 99 yards with one dropped pass, two near-miss bombs and one pass caught out of bounds.

In other words, when he had extra time to see the field, didn't need quick evasive footwork or rapid-read decisions -- with few key elements of the West Coast style in play -- every Campbell pass was on the money.

But from Zorn's basic offense, Campbell was 5 for 12 for just 34 yards and threw one effective pass, his 12-yard touchdown to Santana Moss just before halftime.

Some quarterbacks are so great they can excel in any offense. But most can't. So the NFL is often a league of matchmaking, pairing quarterback to proper coach, just as Gibbs -- lacking a superstar behind center -- identified big, gutsy deep-throwing passers such as Mark Rypien, Doug Williams and Campbell to run his system. Sometimes the NFL offers a chance for an average quarterback to hone one system, as Todd Collins became a master of Saunders's 700-page playbook (after seven years).


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