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Campbell Proving To Be an Apt Pupil

Redskins' QB Earns Zorn's Trust As He Matures

Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was praised by Coach Jim Zorn for his discipline and willingness to learn a new offense.
Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was praised by Coach Jim Zorn for his discipline and willingness to learn a new offense. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 27, 2008; Page E01

On Monday morning, as Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn reviewed film of his team's 20-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks the previous day, he noticed quarterback Jason Campbell moving through his progressions too quickly at times, looking to his second and third options before allowing the primary route to develop.

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The tendency was something Zorn knew he would have to address with Campbell, but the former Seahawks quarterback smiled as he analyzed the young signal caller's performance during his news conference later in the day.

"Remember, at the beginning of the season I couldn't get him off that receiver and now he is off him, you know, five yards down the field. Boy, he's looking for number two and number three," the first-year head coach said, chuckling. "So we'll get him back on track. I think he's playing well, though."

The growth and maturation of Campbell as a full-time starter has been one of the ongoing story lines this season for the Redskins, who hope the fourth-year veteran will be the franchise quarterback Washington has lacked in its recent history.

With the arrival of Zorn this offseason, there were questions about how Campbell would adjust, not just to his seventh offensive system in eight years, but also to the nuances of the West Coast offense Zorn was bringing with him.

Campbell's 6-foot-5, 231-pound frame and long delivery seemed best suited for a passing game with more seven-step drops and deep throws as opposed to the rhythm-oriented, quick-release West Coast system. And following the Redskins' season-opening 16-7 loss to the New York Giants, in which Washington's offense struggled mightily, those doubts only intensified.

Campbell was sacked on the Redskins' first offensive snap of the game and threw for just 133 yards. But in the 10 games since, and as the Redskins (7-4) prepare to once again face the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday at FedEx Field, Campbell is enjoying his best season as a professional and has shown steady progress under Zorn.

"He's moved a lot faster, smoother [and] he continues to make very good decisions," Zorn said yesterday. "Other than that very first play of that very first game, his very first snap, he's improved himself after that. And I think that's been showing each week. He's been a consistent player, which I didn't know about and I don't think anybody knew about coming into it. He could be an up-and-down player, a guy that you can't trust because you don't know what he's going to do. And I think that we've been able to really trust him on the football field with the football."

Besides two shaky performances against two of the NFL's top defenses in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys, when Campbell threw three interceptions and was sacked 10 times, the former first-round draft pick has otherwise proven to be a steady leader and has helped position the Redskins for a playoff run in one of the league's toughest divisions.

Campbell ranks in the top half of the league with a passer rating of 90.2 and is completing 64.1 percent of his passes, a steady improvement from the last two seasons, when he completed 60 and 53.1 and percent, respectively, with a cumulative passer rating of 77.2.

Perhaps most importantly, Campbell has eliminated the turnovers that plagued him in his first few seasons.

After throwing 17 interceptions and fumbling 14 times in 20 games in 2006 and 2007, including 13 fumbles (eight lost) last season, Campbell set a franchise record with 271 pass attempts without an interception dating from late last season, a streak that ended Nov. 3 against Pittsburgh. He has lost just one fumble all season.

Zorn credited Campbell's sharp learning curve to a willingness to work under the constraints of a new system, comparing Campbell to Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who Zorn said initially was not as receptive when he started in the offense.

"I think he's been very much willing to be more disciplined than Matt was his first year in this thing," Zorn said. "Matt kind of had this idea of: 'Hey, excuse me, but I've already got this thing down. Get out of my way. Here, let me do this, let me show you I've got this down.' And Jason has been much more willing to say, 'You know, I want to learn that.' "

Campbell's continued development will be tested in the next two weeks as he faces New York and Baltimore, ranked fifth and second in the league, respectively, in total defense. Both teams feature aggressive pass rushes similar to those Campbell struggled against with Pittsburgh and Dallas, who rank second and fourth, respectively, in sacks.

But Campbell expressed confidence that he and the offense would improve, saying that facing such talented defenses "will really give us an opportunity to grow." And Campbell said that as the relationship between the players and Zorn advances, the Redskins' offense has a chance to be an elite unit.

"From our relationship right now, we're still building as far as what we want to do as an offense," Campbell said yesterday. "People start talking about us, they want us to be like the Indianapolis Colts' offense already. That's not going to happen. If you think Peyton [Manning] was Peyton when he started off in a new offense, you're wrong. That stuff takes time. And that's something that we haven't had over the years is consistency because we've always been changing coordinators.

"That stuff takes time. You have to have a guy that's there that's steady and the players around him have to be steady also. And you build and you grow together and then you start seeing those plays where guys are throwing rainmakers in there, touchdown after touchdown. That's chemistry and time in being in the offense for so long."


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