Oakland Raiders  

 

Discounted Campbell, Raiders hope to find success together

NAPA, Calif. -- For Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell, there is a difference to being displaced and replaced.

Since being traded from Washington this offseason, Campbell's provided hope for Oakland, where previous quarterback play was abysmal and dragged down a franchise that misplaced its faith in JaMarcus Russell. Teammates have seen a dedicated quarterback, who has sparked belief by the simple fact that he cares about his craft.

Campbell is happy to be here. The faith shown by coaches and teammates has made him believe in himself.

He never lacked confidence as the Redskins' starting quarterback three of the past five years, but insecurity was a constant as his former team tried to replace him the past two seasons -- finally doing so this spring after trading for former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Viewed as just a guy in Washington, Campbell is viewed as The Guy in Oakland.

"It feels good," Campbell said. "I feel like I've had a pretty good career in the league. I've been in some tough situations but I'm just really trying to get to this next level."

Coach Tom Cable believes Campbell's mission parallels that of the Raiders and that the sharing of ambitions is a perfect match.

"He fits our team," Cable said. "He's got something to prove -- that he belongs and he belongs as a starter. That's a lot like our football team. We can win. We're going to win and we're for real. He really fits in as to who this team is. It's about the same things: To prove ourselves. He definitely is hungry to do that and so are we."

Campbell and the Raiders have nowhere to go but up. Last season, Campbell's Redskins went 4-12 as the QB struggled behind an injury-plagued offensive line. The Raiders, meanwhile, finished 5-11. So Campbell actually was traded to greener pastures, per se.

The feel-good beginning of this union is bolstered by the fact that Campbell is not Russell, the bust of a lineman-sized quarterback who took football about as seriously as a fly contemplates what it will eat. Russell's lackadaisical approach to nearly everything and poor on-field performance caused his teammates to not want to help him much. That's not the case with Campbell.

He hasn't dazzled in two preseason appearances (17-of-33 with one interception), but he's shown the command that a quarterback needs to show and a work ethic that's generated widespread respect.

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"It's a quarterback that's coming to the line making checks, studying with players and is excited about football and is excited about the things we can do," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "It's being a true leader and captain. So guys are embracing it because it's been a few years since we've seen something like that. It's big."

With all this, we still don't know what Campbell is. We know who he is -- a quiet guy with ability and thick enough skin to tolerate heavy criticism and the Redskins trying twice to trade for quarterbacks (Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez) to take his place last offseason.

But is he a legitimate starting NFL quarterback?

Perhaps it's not a fair question because nearly every season has been like a rookie campaign for him. Since his days at Auburn, he's had eight offensive coordinators, with rising star Hue Jackson, formerly Baltimore's quarterbacks coach, being the latest. Campbell has played in just about every scheme and system possible and dealt with multiple coaching styles. He's been good, he's been bad, he's been in-between.

The constant re-casting of the die has left us all waiting to see what Campbell can become. Even the Raiders don't know, which is why the initial plan is to support him with a Michael Bush-Darren McFadden combo at running attack and to protect him like he's the President.

"He's like any quarterback that has a chance to be good," Cable said. "He's got to have a good run game around him. He's got to be protected. I enjoy his accuracy and accuracy with the deep ball. That fits into our mindset. He's been exposed to a lot of things. I want him to be the best at what we're doing and hopefully he can do it with consistency and that our system will stay intact."

Said Campbell: "When it comes to this position, everybody says it's one player. It's got to be a whole unit. You don't look at Drew Brees and Peyton Manning and those guys and say they're doing it by themselves. They've got time to sit back and evaluate the situations as they unfold. The quarterback has to execute the offensive game plan but everyone has to be accountable."

In Washington, Campbell was viewed as capable, as long as he didn't have to make too many plays. That seems to be the roadmap at the moment with the Raiders. But Campbell is going to have to make plays for Oakland to live up to expectations, which by all accounts is a .500 season or better. He is going to have to do it with a questionable offensive line, talented running backs that haven't lived up to expectations, and a youthful receiving corps dripping with talent but short on productivity.

Jackson might be the guiding hand to push everything along, including Campbell.

Jackson is known as a great communicator with players, having helped nurture the Ravens' Joe Flacco and corral then-Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Cincinnati when he was receivers coach. As Atlanta's offensive coordinator during the turbulent 2007 season, he was the salve to soothe the chafes left on players by coach Bobby Petrino, who called the plays until he quit after 13 games. Jackson called plays from that point and the pared-down scheme actually worked more efficiently.

Campbell said that Jackson is pushing him hard but the coordinator's methods and strategies are made for success. Jackson doesn't allow downtime, pushing Campbell and the other quarterbacks even while other position groups are getting breaks.

"He's a high-energy guy," Campbell said of Jackson, whom the Raiders did not make available for this story. "He's brought a lot to this team emotionally being from Baltimore with a real good football team and understanding what it takes. He pushes us from the time we're out of the huddle."

Campbell's arrival might not mean immediate success. The Raiders have been among the NFL's worst teams for years and the mindset, not just the quarterback play, has to improve. Even so, Campbell has brought a sense of normalcy back to the game's most important position and that, in itself, seems to have charted a course for hope. That alone, is progress.

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