What's the best attribute Jason Campbell brings to Oakland?
Very simple: He’s not JaMarcus Russell.
Campbell, after a fairly undistinguished career in Washington, has legions of believers in Oakland. The Raiders believe Campbell can lead them to places Russell couldn't. Russell’s three-year tenure in Oakland was soiled by his reputation for being unprepared and apathetic. Meanwhile, Campbell has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his professionalism and his makeup.
Again, no one in Oakland seems to care that Campbell has never shown Pro Bowl ability. He has shown them he wants to be their leader and he wants to be the man behind a revival in Oakland. That goes a long way.
Even early in training camp, the book on Campbell by his teammates was that he was a dedicated worker. Again, it was a clear dichotomy from Russell, who was cut in May three years after he was the No.1 overall draft pick. Russell was 7-18 as Oakland’s quarterback and he was benched last year.
“He’s dependable,” said Oakland receiver Chaz Schilens of Campbell, in a loud-and-clear shot at Russell. “It’s really great to have a hard-working guy here every day. He has taken over this offense.”
The excitement over Russell starts at the top. Oakland owner Al Davis compared Campbell to Jim Plunkett, who after a so-so start to his NFL career elsewhere became the Raiders' starting quarterback in 1980. He eventually led the Raiders to two Super Bowl titles.
Davis' comparison might be pie-in-the-sky, but the point is Campbell has brought stability to the quarterback position in Oakland, which hasn’t been the case since Rich Gannon left after the 2004 season.
Oakland starts the Campbell era in Tennessee on Sunday. Oakland coach Tom Cable says this team has playoff potential. The team wears T-shirts that proclaim the Raiders as AFC West champions. That’s bold talk for a team that has lost 11 or more games for seven straight seasons, which is an NFL record.
Last season, Cable made it clear that he thought Oakland would have made a playoff run if it weren’t for Russell’s terrible play. Campbell is the missing ingredient -- at least, that’s how the Raiders feel. The Raiders will enter Tennessee knowing that their quarterback likely won’t make the mistakes to take them out of games.
Special ESPN.com contributing writer Roy S. Johnson believes Campbell’s addition in Oakland is perhaps the most intriguing storyline in the NFL. That might be a stretch considering Campbell led Washington to four wins last year and he was jettisoned by the new regime there. Still, in Oakland, Campbell’s addition is, indeed, big.
Campbell has the type of arm that can excel in Davis’ vertical passing game. Campbell was Washington's starter the past three seasons. He threw for a career-high 3,618 yards with 20 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions last season. Again, those are not Pro Bowl numbers, but Oakland will take Campbell and his average stats.
“He’s a pro, he’s been there,” Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. “He’s a guy who can help us win.”
Oakland’s genuine welcome should provide a spark to Campbell’s career. He wasn’t wanted by new Washington coach Mike Shanahan, who opted for an aging Donovan McNabb to run his offense instead of Campbell.
Campbell, 28, didn’t have much stability in Washington or at college at Auburn. He’s had eight different offensive coordinators in the past eight seasons.
He’s fine making it a ninth season directed by a different coordinator, this time Oakland's Hue Jackson. “One day I can be an (offensive coordinator) and draw from nine different playbooks,’’ Campbell quipped early in camp. He can now joke about his flux because he knows this might be the beginning of stability in his career.
“This is a good change for me,” Campbell said."I look forward to playing in the Raider Nation and bringing a winner back to Oakland.”
The feeling is mutual. After the Russell failure, the Raiders fully believe Campbell is the man to bring life back to Oakland football.