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Monday, November 13, 2006
Redskins bench Brunell; Jason Campbell will start Sunday

Associated Press

ASHBURN, Va. -- Jason Campbell will make his NFL debut Sunday for the Washington Redskins, replacing Mark Brunell for a 3-6 team apparently heading nowhere and in need of a plan for the future.

Coach Joe Gibbs announced Monday that Campbell, who has been an inactive third quarterback for all 25 games of his pro career, will start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We're going to give Jason his opportunity and see if we can be more productive and see if we can get some more answers," Gibbs said.

The move comes a day after the Redskins were beaten 27-3 at Philadelphia, leaving Washington among the bottom teams in the NFC. Brunell went 16-for-32 for 132 yards and had an interception returned 70 yards for a touchdown. Nearly every completion was a screen or a short pass, with only one going for more than 20 yards.

Also Monday, running back Clinton Portis underwent surgery on a broken bone in his right hand. Portis, who was hurt during the first quarter against the Eagles, had three screws inserted and will be sidelined three to four weeks.

Brunell's numbers for the season aren't too bad -- a 62 percent completion rate, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, an 86.5 QB rating and an NFL single-game record 22 consecutive completions against Houston -- but the Redskins have struggled to get the ball downfield, and the offense failed to produce a touchdown in any of its three NFC East road games.

In making the announcement, Gibbs showed the strain of a Hall of Fame coach -- one who is so accustomed to success -- facing up to the humiliation of having to switch quarterbacks during the season for the third straight year.

"It's something you labor about a lot," Gibbs said. "It's a big decision for us, for a lot of reasons."

Gibbs benched Brunell in favor of Patrick Ramsey in 2004 -- also with the record 3-6 -- when Brunell was struggling through the worst season of his career. Brunell regained the job from Ramsey after the first game of last season and had one of his best years, throwing 23 touchdown passes and helping to lead the Redskins to their first playoff berth since 1999.

Now, however, it would appear Brunell's days as a starter in Washington are done. He is 36, and he can no longer throw as hard or run as fast as he did during nine successful seasons in Jacksonville.

Earlier in the day, before he was informed of Gibbs' decision, Brunell said the recent losses had him looking over his shoulder on Mondays.

"You don't know how many more years you have to do this," Brunell said. "I'd like to do this as long as I can."

Brunell was not at Redskins Park when Gibbs made the announcement and was unavailable for comment. The quarterbacks were informed of the change in separate meetings with the coach.

"I was kind of shocked," Campbell said. "It's like when the principal calls you into the office, you get kind of jittery, you don't know what to expect. ... Basically he told me it's my job. It's my job, and I've got to approach it that way."

The Redskins traded three picks so they could move up and select Campbell with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Campbell led Auburn to an undefeated season as a senior. He is 24, tall, strong and mobile and has shown flashes of promise in preseason games.

Campbell sat behind Brunell and Ramsey last season. This year, in an unusual pecking order, Gibbs said Todd Collins would play if Brunell were replaced during a game, and that Campbell would start if the team decided well in advance that Brunell wouldn't play.

Campbell is experiencing in his sixth offensive scheme in six years. He went through four at Auburn and learned Gibbs' system last year. This year, Gibbs turned over the offense to new assistant coach Al Saunders.

"We're going to do everything we can to support him," Gibbs said. "Hopefully it's something he's going to make the most of. He's spent a year and a half preparing for this."

Gibbs said Brunell will be the No. 2 quarterback, with Collins -- signed as a free agent from Kansas City in the offseason -- demoted to No. 3. Gibbs said neither quarterback agreed with his decision.

Gibbs isn't used to coaching a team on the verge of playing out the string. He made references to the salary cap and the fact that he's "always looking for youth and guys to fit in," but he also refused to concede that he is throwing in the towel on the season.

"It's not giving up," Gibbs said. "My goal is to win every game."

Campbell echoed his coach's sentiments.

"First things first, I just want to come in and do what I can to help the team," Campbell said. "There are seven games left in the regular season. You never know what's going to happen."