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Can Campbell Get It Done? Straight Talk From Those Who Did

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tired of listening to everyone play amateur analyst and psychologist with Jason Campbell, I finally went to people whose opinion carried weight, people who have been there and done that in the burgundy and gold.

Heath Shuler, Danny Wuerffel and Gus Frerotte. (What? They started.)

Okay, honest. I settled on three accomplished players to talk about what they believe Campbell has to do in order to lead this franchise in 2009 and beyond, and, later, another guy trying to get there.

Without further adieu: Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann and Mark Rypien, one Hall of Famer and two quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls. Enough said, no?

Sonny: "It's pretty simple. Jason has got to lead. He's got to be the leader and execute the offense. That's all he has to do. Oh, and he's got to listen to the coach. But he can't pay attention to what people are saying."

Joe: "I think he has to be consistent in his play. By the way, I feel like I've been the only [one] here beating his drum. No one else is giving him a chance. One thing people lose sight of is, he's the most dependent guy on the field. If runners don't block, if the defense doesn't stop people, how are you supposed to do your job? You can't evaluate Jason until all those things happen consistently."

Mark: "Number one, he's got to win. And then he's got to overcome all the different systems already in his brain and start to really grasp the West Coast offense. And honestly, I don't know if he can. I'm really worried that the West Coast offense is not right for Jason Campbell. It takes a certain type of player or athlete -- you've seen them in San Francisco, Seattle and Green Bay -- to make that work. I think if Jim Zorn is there for three or four years, you'll start to see some real results. And I think Jason is probably doing his best, and it's probably very frustrating. But I'm not convinced he's cut out for that offense yet."

Rypien was used to balance out Jurgensen and Theismann, who, like me, believe Campbell has what it takes to be Washington's franchise quarterback for the next five-plus years. To be clear, Rypien never said Campbell couldn't become that guy. But he expressed the kind of reservations a lot of fickle people in this town have about Campbell, the same fickle people who swore by his talent eight games into last season, before the bottom fell out of the season.

Look, he wasn't as bad and unsuited for the position as some people's memory.

I'm not a huge stat guy when it comes to evaluating production, but after all the anti-Campbell rhetoric in the preseason I had to take a second glance at these numbers gleaned from the "Football Outsiders 2009 Almanac."

When Campbell had time to set up and throw, he connected on 85.7 percent of his passes, good for seventh in the league in that category. The almanac said Campbell was knocked down, hit or sacked a combined 88 times, or 16.2 percent of the time, when he dropped back to pass last season -- more than all but three other quarterbacks. Jay Cutler's offensive line in Denver, meanwhile, let him go down a scant 25 times all of last season.

How about the fact Campbell had more passes dropped than any other starting quarterback last season? Thirty-nine drops! His best wide receivers, Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, combined to let 21 passes thrown to them by Campbell slip through their hands last season.

Statistically, he also was at the bottom of passes overthrown and underthrown for quarterbacks with at least 200 passes. The top four quarterbacks above him in the accuracy category? Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner.

Bottom line, he got little help from a beat-up offensive line after the midway point of the season, his favorite targets often let him down and -- this is important -- when he had time, Campbell almost always was on the money.

What's more, Theismann believes he is now more of a leader. "I've seen him take more control of practice, show more leadership, than at any other time," Joe said. "When I asked him if he felt this was his team, he unequivocally shot back, 'Absolutely.' It wasn't, a 'Yes' or 'Maybe.' This is his football team. What I've seen is an assertiveness from him I've never seen before."

Rypien, for his part, said the excuse of having to learn different systems each year for Campbell "is getting old."

"This is a do-or-die year for Jason," he said, alluding to Campbell's contract expiring at season's end and whether the team and Campbell will part ways. "If he does what a lot of people think he can do, he will be around. If not, he's gone. Simple as that."

On whether mastering the West Coast offense matters, Sonny said, "Aw, hell, West Coast, East Coast -- if he can play, he can play."

Jurgensen added: "Doesn't make a difference. Tell me a quarterback out there who can't throw the ball quickly, especially when he has to. It's not brain surgery. It's throwing the football to the open people."

Just to be sure, I took the pulse of a few more people, including his teammates.

Moss: "I can't be the judge of what he's fit for and what he's not. But whatever he's got he's going to have to give it to us. He's got it all -- the hype, the big, bulkiness to take hits and the biggest arm. He just can't worry about anyone else. He's got to take the attitude that, sometimes, you just got to go for it."

Chris Cooley: "I don't think Jason gives two [cents] about what other people think. He just needs to step [up] and make some plays. There's definitely concern in his life and career -- he's going into a contract season. I know what that's like, the pressure to show everyone, 'You gotta keep me.' But he's going to be fine. I believe that."

With his most important season opener a few days away, there was only one person left to ask whether Jason Campbell would be physically and emotionally ready after the Redskins attempted to ship him out of town in the offseason, one guy who could emphatically answer the question.

"I'm in a good place right now," Campbell said. "I feel like, personally, I'm going through my progressions, that I have more freedom, and that's going to help me make quick decisions. This season for me is about one thing:

"Play loose and let it all hang out."

He brushed off the suggestion a multiple-read offense wasn't suited for him, adding: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think we ran that offense my senior year at Auburn when we went undefeated. Yep, I can run the West Coast offense. This is the second year in that offense here. I have no choice but to be ready."

Campbell spoke on Thursday night in Jacksonville, Fla., after the last preseason game, days before the roster was trimmed. As a throwaway line, I asked if he was confident he would be on the 53-man roster.

"If you asked me that last March, uh, maybe," he said, smiling. "I'm joking."

Why is Campbell going to break out this season? He's got a serrated edge he didn't have a year ago, a sense of self that's going to enable him to let it all hang out. It's one thing for Sonny and Joe to say so; it's quite another for Jason Campbell to believe it himself.

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