Last April, quarterback Jason Campbell arrived at Redskins Park for the first time, shortly after being selected by the Redskins in the first round of the NFL Draft. He participated in the team's rookie camp in late April and showed promise on the field. He showed maturity and poise in how he handled himself off the field and commanded a presence when talking with the media.
In mid-June, the 6-4, 230-pound Campbell returned to Redskins Park for the team's mini-camp. The veteran stars, from Clinton Portis to Santana Moss to Mark Brunell to Marcus Washington, took center stage.
In turn, Campbell took a step back from the limelight. With little fanfare, he focused on learning the Redskins' offense and learning the pro game.
His NFL education had begun.
For Campbell, the 2005 season was spent working with the scout team during practice and watching from the sidelines on game day. He learned the playbook and watched how veteran starter Brunell handled situations on and off the field.
In early January, as the Redskins were gearing up for their playoff run, Campbell was asked to reflect on his rookie season.
"As a rookie quarterback, you're playing behind a guy like Mark Brunell, a guy who is a veteran and had one of his best seasons," Campbell said. "You just watch how he carries himself throughout the week and during games. You know that one day you'll be in his shoes, where you have to do the same thing.
"So I look at how he prepares himself for games and what he does in certain situations. Any time a person is successful, you want to see what they're doing."
Brunell said he talked at length with Campbell throughout the course of the season.
"I'm sure last year was a real learning experience for him," Brunell said. "I remember my first year--just sitting back and watching. But there's nothing like being out there learning on the job. It's tough to do on the sidelines. We got a chance to talk quite a bit. We talked a lot about situations on the field. Everything we asked him to do, he did this year. He stuck with it and studied the game plan--and knew it. He worked real hard."
Certainly, last year was a big adjustment for Campbell, who as a senior at Auburn in 2004 threw for 2,700 yards and 20 touchdowns in leading the Tigers to an undefeated record. Overall at Auburn, he completed 64.6 percent of his passes and logged 7,299 passing yards, 45 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.
With Brunell and four-year veteran Patrick Ramsey on hand last season, head coach Joe Gibbs had the luxury of sitting Campbell.
"You have to absorb the whole offense and get everyone lined up in the right place--it's a lot to do from a mental standpoint," Gibbs said during his season-ending media session. "In my experience, when [former Redskins quarterbacks] Stan Humphries, Mark Rypien or Jay Schroeder went through that process and got put in there, they were amazingly prepared. I think it comes from just sitting there, hearing it all, being around the pressure and watching somebody else."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, who coached Campbell in the 2005 Senior Bowl, was asked for his assessment of Campbell. Gruden seemed to agree that Campbell needed time to learn the NFL game.
"There's no question he's a lot like most young quarterbacks--[the NFL] is an eye-opening experience," he said. "If you have a chance to watch a Redskins blitz package, it might take you three years until you have any kind of understanding for what they're doing. For a young quarterback to come in and see, anticipate, and recognize things--it's going to take time. He does have a tremendous work ethic. He's a great kid."
Despite not playing or practicing much with the starting unit last season, Campbell believes he has improved his game.
"Working on the scout team, running another team's offense against our defense, for me that has helped," he said. "Working against our defense is a challenge to begin with. I'm out there throwing the ball and making reads for real. As a quarterback, going against our style of defense and how fast they are can really help you out."
Is practicing on the scout team a good way to learn the quarterback position in the NFL?
"In a way, it is," he replied. "You get some repetitions against a very good defense--and the more repetitions you get, the more comfortable you are. But mostly the important thing is learning the offense. Coming in this year behind two veteran guys, I've had to learn on the scout team and get my reps on the scout team."
In his season-ending press conference, Gibbs indicated that Campbell could compete for a larger role in 2006. Gibbs also praised Campbell for his work during practice sessions.
"My impression is that he's very accurate," Gibbs said. "I think he's going to be a guy that can really roam with the football. He's going to make plays with his feet. I think he has a sense of what the pocket is. He'll slide. He's going to be hard to sack because he's so big. We've seen a lot out of him. Now he needs to play."
It's expected that the Redskins will go into training camp with Brunell as the starter at quarterback. Campbell could at the very least compete to become the primary backup.
Asked in early January how far along he is in learning the offense, Campbell replied: "I feel I'm getting real good at it. I'm getting better. I want to continue to learn the defenses that teams are running in the NFL. I need to keep working and studying the playbook. It takes a lot of reps for you to feel real comfortable with everything.
"The main thing is just to learn the offense inside out--then once your opportunity comes on the field, it'll be second nature for you."