It is a sore subject in Washington.
Redskins’ fans can get a bit testy (or mercurial, for those of you nearing the end of another fine year with your Word of the Day calendar) about Jason Campbell.
They are frustrated because the book on Campbell has been written, the discussion is over, and Redskins’ fans are left resigned to the fact he will finish out the year. Campbell’s good not great, a game manager not a game breaker, and that’s that so let’s carve it in stone.
To gloss over the Redskins’ progress since the second half of the Atlanta Falcons game just because the team is 3-8 is foolish. There are real things happening with this roster, and the evaluation process doesn’t stop just because the playoffs are out of sight.
The Redskins have found an offensive identity, one that would make Joe Gibbs smile.
A bruising running attack that feeds the playaction pass along with short routes and three-step drops to protect Jason Campbell is what this offense was built to run. Credit the coaching staff for molding their gameplan to the talent on the roster.
Lost in a system seemingly built to protect Campbell and nurture his limited playmaking ability is the real progress he has made this year.
Earlier in the season, when the offensive line lost Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas, the besieged quarterback crumbled in the face of pressure. Instead of looking downfield, Campbell’s instinct was to tuck the ball and frantically find space to move. That is the mark of a lower-tier NFL quarterback and led me to question whether pocket presence was an innate ability and, if so, Campbell didn’t have it.
But in the last three-and-a-half games, Campbell has been good for a handful of great plays every game, mainly by using his feet to avoid the pass rush, creating extra time, all while keeping his eyes downfield. These are the types of plays that separate Top 10 quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger from the rest of the pack.
These are plays Campbell couldn’t have made a couple months ago.
Take last Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles and one play that stands out in particular. On the way to a touchdown that put the Redskins up 21-16 in the third quarter, Jason Campbell broke away from defensive tackle Mike Patterson and a collapsing pocket to find Devin Thomas for a 35-yard completion.
The play kept the touchdown drive alive on a crucial 3rd-and-7 and Campbell kept his eyes locked downfield.
This is a new part of the Jason Campbell story in Washington: The Playmaker. Whether the fans or the organization will accept this amendment remains to be seen.
Jason Campbell has been baptized in pressure this year, and like many tough times, they end up being a cause of greater good in the long run. He’ll be a better quarterback for fighting through this season, for getting thrown around 16 straight games.
He has been sacked 30 times this year, but only five times in the last three-and-a-half games. If pocket presence is a learned trait, Jason Campbell’s progress is real and cannot be ignored.
It seems unlikely that Campbell will want to come back after this season and commit to an organization that hasn’t committed to him.
With so many other pressing team needs, the organization should make a good faith effort at building bridges once burned with Campbell.
For a fan base looking for a fresh start, it still seems prudent to keep one eye on this season and not completely look ahead to 2010.
Because in the last five games of a dreadful season, the Redskins might find their quarterback of the future.