By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
On his final "day off" before the season begins Sunday, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell actually relaxed a little.
Instead of reviewing hours of game film of an upcoming opponent -- in this case, the New York Giants -- as he usually does on Tuesdays during the season, Campbell planned to watch only another hour of video and spend most of the afternoon visualizing plays he anticipated Jim Zorn might include in the Week 1 game plan. Not exactly a day of fun for most people, but definitely a break for Campbell.
"I always kind of laugh when people talk about us being off when we don't practice, because you're never really off once the season starts if you're trying to accomplish something," said Campbell, Washington's starter for the last 2 1/2 seasons. "We're working for something important that's about to start now. I need to be ready."
As the Redskins resume preparations Wednesday for Sunday's game against the Giants at Giants Stadium, Campbell said he has never been more excited about the team's outlook. Nor has he ever been under more pressure.
The Redskins twice tried to trade Campbell in the offseason and, in the last season of his contract, he knows he is entering a make-or-break year in Washington. He does so with confidence -- citing improved pass protection in the preseason and the development of second-year wide receiver Malcolm Kelly as notable improvements on offense -- but knows the only meaningful barometer will be the team's win-loss record.
"No matter what you think about what you can do, or how you feel about things, it's all about going out there on the field and proving it," said Campbell, a 2005 first-round pick who is beginning his fifth season with the Redskins. "I look at our team and I feel good about where we're at and all the work we put in to get here.
"People from the outside may look at it differently, but the only thing that matters is what we believe and what we do. I definitely think we have a lot of the right people in place now, and we're doing the things we need to do, to accomplish the team goals that are important to us."
Poor production on offense was considered the Redskins' biggest deficiency last season as the team went 2-6 over the second half of the schedule, finished 8-8 and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the seventh time in Daniel Snyder's 10 seasons as owner. The Redskins produced just 16.6 points per game, ranking 28th in the 32-team league. Campbell was sacked 38 times (just three quarterbacks were sacked more), and a productive No. 2 receiver did not emerge to complement top wideout Santana Moss.
The Redskins made only one major change in line personnel, bringing back Derrick Dockery, who began his career with the team, to replace left guard Pete Kendall. But they also adjusted their protection scheme, implementing pass protection "rules" for a variety of blitzes that eliminated the need for Campbell to make many protection adjustments. Although the first-team offense was not especially productive as the Redskins went 1-3 in the preseason, the line was surprisingly effective in protecting Campbell.
"Some of the changes we made as far as our protections, you see how they worked," Campbell said. "The guys really did a great job just giving me time to go through my reads and make plays. You have to feel good about that."
Of course, that was only the preseason. The line also protected well starting out the 2008 season and wore down in the second half. Left tackle Chris Samuels and right guard Randy Thomas are coming off knee surgeries and have already experienced problems that will have to be managed all season, prompting the team to carry 10 offensive linemen on the opening 53-man roster.
"The changes we made are definitely going to help," Campbell said. "And with Chris and Randy, you know those guys are going to give you everything they have. The coaches will be smart with them."
Campbell is upbeat about the line, but he's downright ecstatic about the potential of Kelly. Throughout the preseason, Kelly impressed while displaying a knack for making catches in traffic. He has made tremendous strides from his rookie season, when he appeared in only five games because of knee problems, and has shown no lingering effects from offseason microfracture knee surgery, coaches and players said. The Redskins are hopeful Kelly (listed at 6 feet 4, 227 pounds) finally fills their longtime need for a big target in the passing game.
"Malcolm is just a very impressive young player," Campbell said. "When you see the way he reaches out and catches the ball, his leaping ability and the way he makes plays even if you don't throw him a perfect ball, it gives you a lot of confidence at the quarterback position to have someone like him out there."
Although Kelly has not officially been named the starting flanker, he has approached practice with a starter's mentality, working to earn the trust of the coaching staff and Campbell.
"His work ethic in rehabbing from surgery showed a lot, but Malcolm is just very mature for a young player," Campbell said. "He always shows up where he's supposed to be on time and he always focuses on every play. He understands that it's not just about a play here or there. In this league, you have to work to be perfect every second you're on the field. That's what Malcolm does."
Wideout Antwaan Randle El, the first-team flanker the past three seasons, again starts out as the team's primary punt returner and will remain heavily involved in the offense as a slot receiver, which "is just going to make our offense even better," Campbell said. "Randle El can use his quickness against linebackers in the slot a lot, and he could catch more balls than anybody this year. And the thing about Randle El is, he just cares about winning. We're going to need him and [Pro Bowl tight end Chris] Cooley and everybody to contribute. But the thing Malcolm adds is that size outside that we've been looking for."
In the past, Campbell might not have been as outspoken in support or criticism of teammates. But in his second season as one of the Redskins' six team captains, Campbell has been more vocal in his leadership since the offseason.
"You can see he's more comfortable in his role and what's expected of him, and that confidence has just helped him become a better leader," offensive coordinator Sherman Smith said. "Jason has worked hard, he has prepared to play and he is the quarterback of this team."
But Campbell's 1-for-7 performance in the second preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers renewed concerns among some fans and media members about his ability to lead. Roundly criticized on sports talk radio, Campbell closed the preseason with consecutive effective outings.
"I just think the way he's handled the preseason, I think he's shown calm, poise, confidence," said Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations. "I don't think any other quarterback in the league had the pressure put on by [media members] for a [second] preseason game.
"He responded well to it. I think he's responded to every challenge thus far. He's taken charge of the huddle. He's become more vocal and has taken over the practices out there. I think everybody looks to him now."
Staff writer Rick Maese contributed to this report.