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Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Updated: November 15, 3:13 PM ET
Redskins hand QB job to Campbell

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Here's hoping all you Washington Redskins fans out there, or at least the scant remaining members who continue to pledge loyalty to the floundering franchise, are seated.

Don't want you falling too far to the floor and concussing yourselves, after all, when I do something that I don't often do: Give the Redskins some props.

Nice move, gentlemen, installing second-year quarterback and clipboard caddie nonpareil Jason Campbell as the starter for Sunday's game.

Jason Campbell
Jason Campbell has only played in preseason games in the NFL.
It's about time, isn't it?

Twenty-five games of charting plays and throwing zero passes. Twenty-five games witnessing starter Mark Brunell grow creakier with virtually every snap, and this year, watching the 36-year-old veteran unable to get to the chapter titled "Throwing Deep" in pricey offensive coordinator Al Saunders' legendary 700-page playbook. Twenty-five games of apprenticeship without being able to truly apprentice, kind of like a carpenter's helper who isn't allowed to touch a hammer. Twenty-five games of serving as the No. 3 "emergency" quarterback.

At 3-6, and with the Redskins' playoff hopes flickering at best, there's apparently a state of emergency sufficient enough now to decide it's time to bring the 2005 first-rounder out of mothballs.

"It's exciting and all, but I've got some mixed emotions, because Mark has been such a mentor to me," Campbell told ESPN.com on Monday night, just hours after being elevated to the top spot on the depth chart. "Definitely, it's something I've wanted, something I've been waiting for, but I didn't know when or if it would come. But finally, it's my time now."

Campbell was getting ready to leave the Redskins Park training complex Monday afternoon when he was summoned to coach Joe Gibbs' office and handed the keys to an offense that, despite Saunders and his $2 million salary, has scored the 10th-fewest points in the NFL and performed (to be kind) sporadically. Instead of heading home to his apartment, Campbell headed to the film room and studied several hours of video. He expected to be back at the tape machine again early Tuesday -- "I'm so excited about getting ready to play, I might go into work at, like, 1 o'clock in the morning," Campbell said -- studying the defense of Sunday's opponent, the Tampa Bay Bucs.

As decimated as the Tampa Bay front seven is right now, with the Bucs having played on Monday night minus three starters, the unit demonstrated in its loss at Carolina that it can still be formidable at times. And you know that coordinator Monte Kiffin will throw some stuff at Campbell in his first start that will have the former Auburn star's head swimming.

But with the Redskins treading water as they try to grab a spot in the playoff pool, it was time to toss the talented but untested Campbell into the deep end and let him sink or swim.

There has been a sense since training camp that if things went poorly in Washington, Gibbs would turn to Campbell once he determined the Redskins had no chance of making the playoffs. What transpired on Monday wasn't quite running up the white flag, not in a city that knows a concession speech when it hears one, but an admission that something had to be done to change the dynamic of an offense that has been anything but, well, dynamic.

It is, though, in many ways a peek into the future as well.

You know that F-word, don't you, Redskins fans? Certainly it's not in the vocabulary of free-spending owner Dan Snyder, who keeps futilely pursuing a Super Bowl with no clue about how you've first got to lay the cornerstone. Snyder would rather spend millions on ill-advised free agent acquisitions like safety Adam Archuleta or wide receiver Antwaan Randle El than actually draft players and develop them. And that's why the move to Campbell, who was actually relegated for way too long to the incubator, is so rife with irony.

Here is the team of the quick-fix owner with its future in the strong right arm of a young player who was regarded by most personnel men assessing the 2005 draft as a bit of a project. Knowing the history of Snyder, he's probably already placed a call to Jacksonville to see what it will take to trade for demoted starter Byron Leftwich, a Washington-area kid, after the season.

"It's exciting and all, but I've got some mixed emotions, because Mark has been such a mentor to me. Definitely, it's something I've wanted, something I've been waiting for, but I didn't know when or if it would come. But finally, it's my time now."
Jason Campbell, Redskins QB

But first, let's get some empirical evidence on Campbell before reaching for the panic button.

That's why we're not about to quibble with Gibbs' decision to make a change, and to make it to the younger, potential-laden guy. The Redskins' coaches and scouts fell in love with Campbell in the weeks preceding the '05 lottery, swapped three draft choices to Denver to net the Broncos' first-round pick with Campbell squarely in the crosshairs, then protested a little too much when yours truly outed their plan to select him.

Still waiting for the apology from The Daniel, and from a lot of media colleagues who publicly lambasted the reports the Redskins had made the trade with Denver specifically to take Campbell, on that one.

We believed in Campbell then, and believe in him now, and it's about time the Redskins got on board. For anyone who believes, however, that Campbell is going to rattle off seven straight wins and salvage the '06 season, well, think again. Essentially a four-year starter at Auburn, the kid played under a litany of different coordinators and quarterbacks coaches, and if Brunell couldn't handle everything in Saunders' playbook, it is naive to believe Campbell will immediately comprehend everything.

What the youngster will bring to the offense is the ability to get the ball vertically up the field, which is incumbent in Saunders' offensive design, and which made the dink-and-dunk Brunell an ill fit. And while Campbell will have some rough edges and struggle through some tough times, he will bring some hope for the future.

It's uncertain how much of a role Gibbs will play in that future, which is why some questioned the choice of Campbell a year ago, but the Hall of Fame coach is trying to preserve a legacy here. When the Redskins hired Gibbs, we penned a column that suggested the presence of the meddlesome Snyder would turn one of the game's greatest coaches into an Ordinary Joe by the end of his second incarnation. More than halfway through his third season, Gibbs has actually been rendered Less Than Ordinary Joe, with a record that is three games under .500.

Gibbs is likely to add several more games to the negative side of the ledger book before everything comes together for Campbell, a player of enormous physical gifts, but one who needs time to grow. The positive news for the Redskins, at least in the big picture, is that Campbell will now get that opportunity.

Making a quarterback switch in the NFL is never an easy thing. It is, by nature, disruptive. But in this case, it was definitely the right thing to do.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.