|Jim Brown / US Presswire|
|Jason Campbell has taken charge of offseason workouts and looks forward to leading the Raiders to the next level.|
In the past, people have tried to take swipes at Jason Campbell's leadership skills and his ability to bring a team together.
In Washington, where he spent the first five years of his career before joining the Oakland Raiders last season, detractors would wonder if he was fiery enough or, perhaps, vocal enough to be a leader in the NFL.
The reality is that there are myriad ways to lead a football team. And having been around Campbell throughout his career, I've long maintained that, with proper infrastructure, he could be a quality, winning quarterback for a long time.
Now, during this wacky offseason, with the lockout trumping all else, Campbell is doing his part to unify the Raiders in his second year with the team. Campbell quarterbacked Oakland to an 8-8 finish in 2010, including a 6-0 mark in the AFC West, while again having to adjust to a new system and new coaches.
Now, Campbell seemingly has what he needs to take the Raiders to the next level. Oakland promoted from within, hiring last year's offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, as head coach. As if that continuity wasn't stable enough, former Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who coached Campbell before, now holds the same position with the Raiders. Finally, with pieces in place for Campbell to succeed, after years of playing quarterback roulette, the Raiders have found a more-than-temporary solution to their quandary.
To that end, Campbell, along with veteran defensive lineman Richard Seymour, has organized a week of offseason training for the Raiders, bringing his teammates together for workouts, drills and offseason bonding. Much was made of Jets West, the Southern California camp organized by Mark Sanchez, so think of this as Raiders South, with Campbell and Seymour assembling teammates in the Atlanta area beginning next Monday.
"We've got a chance to be really good," Campbell told me. "But the timing of this lockout is really tough. Hue is a first-time head coach, and we brought Al Saunders over, and we all really want to work together, but we can't do it right now. So we've got to make the best of it and get our teammates together and try to do the work ourselves."
Campbell has been throwing to some Raiders receivers, Louis Murphy in particular, for weeks near his offseason home in Northern Virginia. Campbell is eager to have more teammates around him, though, as the Raiders seek to build off last season's breakthrough campaign. Both Campbell and Seymour have ties to the Atlanta area, and the attractions and entertainment options there, as well as the abundance of fields and trainers, made setting up camp in that region a natural fit.
Campbell anticipates 25 to 30 players participating, with camp running next Monday through Friday. "We could have had more," he noted, "but the problem is we have something like 25 guys who are free agents, and a lot of them don't know if they're gonna be restricted or unrestricted, and those guys don't want to risk anything, and it sounds like they'll just chill."
Campbell will bring two of his trainers down to Atlanta with him and has secured the use of quality facilities. He also wants the trip to be about more than just football, however. He's hoping to replicate some of the bonding that would usually be going on in May, a time generally spent together during organized team activities and mini camps.
"It's going to be a great chance to build on that camaraderie," Campbell said. "I've been throwing to Murph and some of my receivers up here all offseason, and to get everybody together down there will be great.
"We'll start around 10 every morning and do our workouts and get on the field, and then every night we've got plans for everybody to go out to eat together and just spend time together and bond off the field. We'll have a lot of stuff for the guys to do."
Campbell said he is eager to catch up with everyone and feels like the Raiders can be real contenders in 2011. "We have the chance to be a really good team," Campbell said. "We're heading in the right direction."
Campbell, having eventually unseated Bruce Gradkowski last season after a lingering quarterback flip-flop under former coach Tom Cable, knows he is in the final year of his contract, too. And, as a former first-round pick who endured more than his fair share of transition and turmoil in Washington, Campbell knows this game can be fickle.
He will essentially be playing for his future, again, with the Raiders this season. Finally, however, for the first time since college, he will have some cohesiveness among the roster and offensive coaching staff. That should only bode well for training camp and the season, whenever that might start.
"It's not the normal offseason," Campbell said, "but we're all working hard to be ready whenever it starts. This should be a big year for us."
Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @JasonLaCanfora