By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
During a closed-door meeting in owner Daniel Snyder's office in April, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell listened attentively as Snyder voiced concerns about Campbell's performance last season. Snyder told Campbell he wants him to become a franchise quarterback, Campbell recalled Monday, but he has not reached that level yet in Snyder's opinion.
Snyder called the meeting to clear the air about his efforts to replace Campbell, Washington's starter for the last 2 1/2 seasons, during the offseason and encourage Campbell to assume more leadership. Although Campbell didn't agree with everything he heard in the meeting that Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, and Coach Jim Zorn also attended, he left Snyder's office more determined to succeed.
"No one has to tell me I need to push myself, I need to be the leader of the team and I have to set an example," Campbell said. "I know that, and that's why I work as hard as I do, because I want to be the type of quarterback who takes us to the next level. But you always have things you can work on, things you can do to improve, and one thing is I'm going to be a lot more vocal this year. I really think it's time for me to take that role, and I'm going to let all my teammates know that and see that."
Spurred by Snyder's assessment of him, Campbell took more initiative in setting the agenda for offseason workouts. He personally contacted receivers to participate in throwing sessions at Redskins Park and, in some cases, admonished players for lacking focus, many in the organization said.
As training camp opens Thursday, Campbell plans to shoulder more responsibility for how the Redskins perform in their second season under Zorn, whose job security seems, at least in part, linked to the quarterback's performance. And after Snyder's recent pursuit of potential replacements for Campbell, this season could be his last with the Redskins unless he has a breakthrough year.
"Yeah, you know a lot of stuff can happen, and I've thought about every scenario," said the 2005 first-round pick, beginning his fifth season with the Redskins. "But for the most part, I'm very confident in having a great year and just seeing where everything falls. I'm really not putting pressure on myself. . . . I'm not looking at this like it's going to define my career. I'm just going to go out and play, but I am very optimistic. This can be a great year for us for a lot of reasons. As an offense, we're going to be a lot better."
Poor production on offense was considered Washington's biggest deficiency as the team went 2-6 in the second half of its schedule, finished 8-8 and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the seventh time in Snyder's 10 seasons as owner. The Redskins produced an average of only 16.6 points -- ranking 28th in the 32-team league.
Campbell was battered in the final eight games as the offensive line was overmatched in losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants at FedEx Field, and the Baltimore Ravens on the road. Overall, Campbell was sacked 38 times, the fourth-highest total in the league.
Wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and tight end Fred Davis were expected to provide a boost for Zorn's offense, which features many three- and four-receiver sets, but they disappointed as rookies.
In only his second full season as a starter last season, Campbell established personal bests with an 84.3 passer rating, 3,245 yards and 13 touchdown passes while throwing only six interceptions. His production, however, tailed off after the midpoint of the season, and the Redskins acknowledged they attempted to trade for former Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, who was traded to the Chicago Bears. They also inquired about trading up in the draft to select former Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez, whom the New York Jets selected with the fifth overall pick.
With top wide receiver Santana Moss often double-teamed, Campbell had few viable options in the passing game. And although running back Clinton Portis finished fourth in the league with 1,487 yards rushing, he rushed for more than 80 yards only once in the final eight games. The Redskins ranked fourth overall defensively last season.
"As an offense, we didn't do enough to help our defense, and we were all disappointed about that," Campbell said. "We all believe in what Coach Zorn and the coaches want us to do, we know we're capable of a lot more than we did last year, and just being in the offense for another year, and with some of the changes and adjustments we've made, we're confident we can be successful."
Zorn has tweaked things in an effort to reduce Campbell's on-field duties and, hopefully, increase his production. In games last season, Zorn, the Redskins' play-caller, would only provide personnel groupings for plays, and Campbell was responsible for putting together formations in the huddle. Center Casey Rabach made many of the line protection calls, but Campbell was responsible for changing protection schemes against certain blitzes.
This season, Zorn, essentially, will provide Campbell with all of the information for plays. Pass protection "rules" for a variety of blitzes will eliminate the need for Campbell to make many protection adjustments.
"We talked a lot about how my work last season was kind of doubled compared to most quarterbacks around the league, in terms of what I had to do at the position level," Campbell said. "Learning all the formations, and then you had to put the plays together in the huddles, there's just a lot that goes into it. This year, they're going to try to take some of that strain off of me and just give me the opportunity to go out, play and not have to worry about so much."
A better understanding of the offense, and his familiarity with Zorn, could help Campbell, too. Zorn began to install the offense last season, "but it was really just the building blocks," Campbell said. "I mean, we knew what we were supposed to do, but we were just learning it. For me, there were just a lot of different things that you had to do, and you had to learn a lot in your first year of an offense.
"But everything I went through last year, it's going to help me out this season. Now, I've heard those plays before. I'm seeing them now as soon as I hear them. I'm able to visualize them. I'm just more sure of myself and my own play, what I have to do, so it's just natural that I would take my leadership to that next level as the quarterback of the team. That's just kind of what I have to do."
Campbell impressed Cerrato with his assertive approach during workouts and minicamp. "Being out there [on the field] and watching Jason and talking to him, I think he's really improving in those areas you would" like to see improvement, Cerrato said last week. "I mean, I've been out there, and I've watched him and what he's doing. And it's also coming from other players, so that's good when you see it and you hear it."
Despite the team's strong performance on defense, Snyder and Cerrato invested heavily in that area, signing all-pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and re-signing cornerback DeAngelo Hall shortly before he could have tested the open market. The re-signing of veteran guard Derrick Dockery, a former Redskins draft pick who spent the last two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, was Washington's biggest move on offense.
"We didn't add a lot of guys on offense, but the help can come from guys just improving," Campbell said. "Devin and Malcolm and Fred, I believe they're going to be better. We added Dockery, and he's been out there in Arizona working [with several Redskins offensive linemen] and trying to come back in the best shape possible. They've all been out there working and building that unity and communication, and that's what your offensive line is all about. I'm just really hopeful about this season. I'm definitely hopeful about a lot."
Redskins Note: Jeremy Jarmon, the Redskins' pick in the July 16 supplemental draft, has signed with the team. Terms of the deal were not announced. This leaves only Brian Orakpo unsigned, with less than 48 hours to go before the first practice of training camp.