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
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."
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
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."
STARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH JIM ZORN (0--0 in NFL), first season
contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]