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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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Where does Campbell fit? More than any one factor, that's what this season will be about, as Redskins fans try to keep their sanity. Mood swings, here we come.

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As Campbell showed with those 15 zipping throws out of the shotgun against the Super Bowl champs on the road, he doesn't quit. System or no system, he's going to light some people up. But as the last two preseason games showed, it doesn't take a world champ to make the Redskins' offense look lost.

When we combine the best and worst of Campbell, will it be good enough? How long will it take to find out? Given the Redskins' impatience, will the team reeducate Campbell and change its personnel to fit Zorn, then (just when things might come together) blow it up again?

The Redskins seldom stick to a long-term plan. They just react to events (often emotionally), like Gibbs's sudden retirement. And it can leave them in strange places with peculiar problems -- like West Coast Jason.

Is Zorn's offense a nightmare for Campbell? Probably. But he's a pro, not a sulker, who'll do his best. But Zorn and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato certainly seem to know how dicey their quarterback situation has become. They re-signed Collins even after canning Saunders, the coach who created him. And they drafted Colt Brennan, a project with West Coast skills. Brennan's three-quarter-arm release has to change for survival in the NFL -- a huge transition. But he delivers the ball quickly, is accurate on short to midrange passes, has some mobility, improvises with gusto and may already see the field as well as Campbell.

It's far too early to draw conclusions about Campbell, who played in a West-Coast-with-training-wheels offense in his senior year at Auburn. But let's not sugarcoat this.

Campbell is being asked to go from deep drops to short drops. From vertical bombs to lateral timing routes that hit receivers in stride for maximum yards gained after the catch. He's switching from extra protection with two or three receivers in a pattern to four or five receivers to decode in a blink. Instead of Gibbsian "stand in the pocket" courage and willingness to absorb a blow, now he's listening to Zorn say, "He's so big, and I just want him to move faster."

Gibbs's formation-shifting, man-in-motion schemes helped quarterbacks identify their primary receiver before the snap. Zorn is the opposite: Scramble the posse after the snap, make the passer drop back fast, read the defense fast, pick a receiver instantly, then deliver with a quick motion.

Did I mention "fast"?

Zorn, an ex-quarterback who had to learn a new system in mid-career when Chuck Knox took over the Seahawks, said of Campbell: "I think he's got enough athleticism, I really do, to speed up his game in certain situations. And part of it, I'm hoping, is just the idea of understanding the offense better, the speed of it. He's not there yet, but I'm not totally discouraged."

Many in the NFL are both skeptical and fascinated. On Campbell's side: a great arm and work ethic, good enough footwork, a bit of "escapability" and a willingness to learn.

On the other side -- always the same issues: He has a big passing motion that Saunders tried, with some success, to abbreviate. Over and over you hear, "Does he see the field well enough?" -- a gift that, despite new coaching gizmos, is hard to improve. Is he charismatic enough? Even in the huddle, Moss said last year that his rapid Southern-accented speech was sometimes hard to understand.

In addition, Campbell almost never releases the ball until after his receiver finishes his final break, rather than throwing "on" or an instant before the break. After being in so many systems, is he hesitant to trust that he and his receiver are on the same page? His powerful arm compensates, to a degree. But most successful West Coast quarterbacks unload on the break.

Finally, the Redskins now ask their quarterbacks to call the line-blocking changes when they see a blitz coming. Linemen used to do it. "Jason has to know a ton more, so it has to be hard," tackle Chris Samuels said.

If Campbell can overcome all of this, he'll deserve every ovation he gets at FedEx Field. What hasn't this guy been clobbered with in Washington? He was forced to take over the starting job quickly and now has learned three systems in four years. He's had a serious knee injury. And fans will remember that in January, Collins took a team that was under .500 when Campbell got hurt to the playoffs.

Will Campbell become a good West Coast quarterback? Doubtful. However, if there's any justice, will he prove us skeptics wrong? Absolutely.


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