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JASON CAMPBELL owes his football career to his ability to pick up new concepts, and the Redskins quarterback has been hit with plenty over the last seven seasons. Dating to his freshman year at Auburn, he had to learn six offensive systems because of a near-constant turnover of coordinators and quarterbacks coaches. Campbell is practically starting from scratch yet again with new coach Jim Zorn, the longtime tutor of Seahawks quarterbacks who brings a West Coast--style offense to Washington. Zorn was hired by owner Dan Snyder in February as offensive coordinator, then was promoted to coach after the Skins failed to land a bigger name to replace the retired Joe Gibbs.
"Each guy is always trying to teach you something different," Campbell says. "Everything I've learned in the past, I've just had to put it out of my mind."
But Campbell's seventh offensive overhaul could be the charm. The last time he ran a version of the West Coast, in his senior year at Auburn, he set the school's season record for completion percentage (64.6%) while leading the Tigers to a 13--0 record. And last year Campbell took another step forward as the Redskins' starter, completing 60.0% of his passes for 2,700 yards and 12 touchdowns before his season abruptly ended when he dislocated his left kneecap in Week 14. Journeyman Todd Collins, 36, who hadn't thrown a meaningful pass in 10 years, stepped in and reeled off four straight wins to help Washington make the playoffs, but Zorn's first move as coach was to quash any QB controversy and pronounce Campbell his starter.
A nimble pocket passer with a strong arm and a quick, compact release, the 6'5", 230-pound Campbell is an ideal fit for Zorn's system, which emphasizes timing and tempo over presnap shifting and postsnap trickery, both of which were nettlesome hallmarks of former coordinator Don Breaux's offense. Receivers were also frustrated by a system that depended heavily on matchups at the line of scrimmage, according them fewer options. "Last year it all depended on coverages," says Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley. "If your matchup wasn't there, you were running to get someone else open. This year it's up to us to get open and make it work."
Given the responsibility on Campbell to keep the offense efficient, the quarterback has been under intense scrutiny from Zorn, who scolds him for everything from the height at which he takes the snap from under center—"Jason is much more explosive when he's playing lower," Zorn says—to the distance his off hand travels when he pats the ball before a throw, a habit Zorn hopes to stamp out altogether. Not only does the pat waste precious time, Zorn says, but "it's also an indicator for the defensive back to start driving on the ball. If Jason doesn't pat, the DB gets there a little bit later."
To further refine Campbell's already smooth mechanics, Zorn has subjected the passer to a range of unconventional drills of his own invention. He has pelted his QB with large exercise balls (meant to represent onrushing linemen) to teach him how to move better in the pocket under duress; bombarded him with blocking pads when he's looking downfield to steel his focus; and even sent him skidding down a Slip 'n Slide in cleats to master the feet-first slide on a scramble. Says Zorn of his eager pupil, a first-round draft pick in 2005, "He wants to be great."
To achieve that, Campbell will need stability at the top. And just how long Zorn sticks around depends on how well his quarterback responds to instruction. Given the Redskins' limited commitment and simmering interest in another brand-name coach (namely, the currently retired Bill Cowher), it's possible anything less than the playoffs could mean one and done for Zorn. "A lot of quarterbacks who you see make the Pro Bowl or have consistent seasons have been in the same offense for years," Campbell says. "Hopefully Coach Zorn will be here for a minute so we can establish some growth."
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH JIM ZORN (0--0 in NFL), first season with Redskins
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