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Sam Farmer / ON THE NFL

Campbell is a big hit in ratings

October 05, 2008|Sam Farmer

When it comes to offensive systems, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell has learned them from A to Z.

That's from Auburn to Zorn.

Campbell, suddenly among the NFL's hottest quarterbacks, is on his seventh offense since his freshman year at Auburn, and he's flourishing in the West Coast scheme of rookie Coach Jim Zorn.

Gone is the notion that Campbell is too much of a drop-back passer for the system, a strong-armed misfit bound for the scrap heap of failed Redskins experiments. Through the first quarter of the season, he's the NFC's second-rated passer behind New Orleans' Drew Brees.

After struggling in a season-opening loss to the New York Giants, Campbell has led Washington to three consecutive victories heading into today's game at Philadelphia. The real attention-grabber was a 26-24 upset at Dallas last Sunday when Campbell threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns to further shake up the league's most competitive division.

Through the first quarter of the season, Campbell has six touchdown passes and is the NFL's only regular starter without an interception. His passer rating has topped 100 in each of the past three games, and he looks increasingly comfortable in Zorn's system.

"Jason is progressing along," the coach said. "He's got a ways to go, but I think as the season goes, because each game just gets bigger and bigger, I hope the progression keeps going and he doesn't level out."

That the Redskins have reached something of a comfortable cruising altitude is especially surprising with the way they started the season. They lost their last two exhibition games by a combined 71-6, and made headlines before their first game by benching tackle Jon Jansen, once a fixture on the offensive line, and when standout free agent Jason Taylor was hobbled by a knee sprain.

Things looked even less promising in the NFL opener when the Redskins were dominated by the New York Giants, converting only three of 13 third downs and reaching enemy territory three times in a 16-7 loss that was more lopsided than the score suggests.

Washington bounced back, however, with home victories over New Orleans and Arizona, then took a major step forward by beating the Cowboys. Campbell said this week that, even though it's difficult adjusting to yet another offensive system, he and Zorn are beginning to develop a bond and mutual trust that has eased the transition.

"When I come to the sideline, he's the first person to talk to me, and we start going over things," Campbell said. "He's talking to the running backs and wide receivers. I think that's the biggest difference right now. We're getting all the communication from one guy."

And it helps that that one guy was a quarterback too, the charismatic young leader who poured the foundation for the expansion Seattle Seahawks. It was in Seattle that Zorn began his pro coaching career, as well, first working as an offensive assistant under Dennis Erickson, and, for the past seven seasons, as quarterbacks coach under Mike Holmgren.

It was there where Zorn learned patience, a virtue that's in short supply with most NFL owners and particularly Washington's Dan Snyder.

"Every place I've gone, I've never been in a hurry," Zorn said.

That said, this Redskins' turnaround has happened faster than most people might have expected. It hasn't been a virtuoso performance by Campbell. He has gotten help from a solid offensive line, a good receiver corps that includes sure-handed targets such as Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley, and a reliable runner in Clinton Portis.

Today, the most pressure is on the Eagles, who are 2-2 and coming off a hard-fought loss at Chicago. Philadelphia has a very good defense, but its offense has suffered without a healthy Brian Westbrook, the NFL's most versatile offensive weapon.

Zorn, meanwhile, is managing his expectations. He's optimistic, but he doesn't want to apply too much pressure to his developing quarterback.

"I hope he plays as steady as he has the last three games," he said. "He made some big strides from the first game to the second game. . . . It's not the knockout blow, but it's very steady."

That's good enough for the Redskins.

Considering the way the season started, they're in the midst of a bailout that everyone in Washington can get behind.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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