Thomas Boswell on Redskins Quarterback Jason Campbell
Ineptitude can be the mother of invention.
To measure how much better Jason Campbell must become and to sense the vast distance that Coach Jim Zorn's offense must travel to become credible, consider this: The bright spark in the Washington Redskins' season-ending, 27-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on the last play Sunday afternoon was the scrambling of a quarterback who isn't supposed to run.
From the day he was drafted, the 6-foot-5 Campbell has been told to keep his feet still under pressure, scan the field, read defenses and hope that someday, with his elite arm, he will emerge as a classic statuesque NFL pocket passer.
So much for plans. As the season collapsed from a 6-2 start to an 8-8 finish, Campbell has been forced to discover a skill he never knew he had. Apparently, over four NFL years, he has picked up the knack, through osmosis or desperation, of knowing when and where to run. Nobody asked him. He just has it.
For months the Redskins have had trouble maintaining long drives. (Okay, short drives, too.) Against the 49ers, they had marches of 62, 78 and 55 yards for touchdowns that required 10, 16 and 10 plays -- exactly the kind of offense Zorn's West Coast attack has lacked. The common denominator of all three drives -- especially the final thrust on which Campbell improvised a two-yard, fourth-down score with 1 minute 15 seconds left to tie the score at 24 -- was the quarterback's opportunism.
After the scoring play, Zorn told him, "I'm glad you're 6-5 with long arms because we needed every inch of it."
With these Redskins, you look for progress where you can find it. Both offensive and defensive lines are showing their age. The whole team was constructed along win-now lines for Joe Gibbs. All season, one core question has been asked: Can Campbell become good enough, fast enough to take this team deep into the playoffs before it gets old?
Campbell needs an improved and younger offensive line. He needs a second deep threat besides Santana Moss. In fact, if any (or all) of the Redskins' second-round receivers from the '08 draft would like to step up and be impact NFL players, Campbell would appreciate it greatly. Right now, they're contributing next to nothing.
However, until such wondrous improvements are made around him, Campbell has simply improved himself.
"He dramatically improved himself in getting free, making a decision to run upfield," Zorn said. "In the beginning of the year, he didn't lack the talent, he just lacked the encouragement. He proved he has that dimension. It creates a tremendous weapon for us. Please don't ask me to design things to get him downfield as our star running back.