QB shuffle makes for bustling week for Washington Redskins

Updated: November 16, 2006, 4:47 PM ET
Associated Press

ASHBURN, Va. -- Jason Campbell has been swamped with attention, and even his father held a teleconference with reporters.

Mark Brunell feels as if he has "a big target" on his chest. Al Saunders is modifying the offense. Joe Gibbs just looks downright miserable.

It's been quite a week for the Washington Redskins.

"The first day it feels different because you are overwhelmed," said Campbell, describing for the umpteenth time his reaction to becoming the starting quarterback. "You are not sure how to react or what to do."

Campbell, who on Sunday at Tampa Bay will take his first snap in an NFL regular-season game, spoke while surrounded by a swarm of reporters next to the locker room, smiling at questions that probed for any new morsel of detail about the 2005 first-round draft pick.

This used to be Brunell's exclusive domain, but the 14-year veteran instead had to deal with the sting of demotion in a more somber gathering.

"I feel like I have a big target on my chest right now," said Brunell, benched after last week's 27-3 loss at Philadelphia. "But I'm not saying that I've been made the scapegoat, that is not the case at all. We're 3-6, and if the offense isn't productive, then naturally the person that gets the blame is the quarterback. That is this business, and whether it's fair or not, that's the way it is. ... Football is a great game, but it's a horrible business."

Everyone, from Campbell to Campbell's father to other players and coaches has expressed sympathy for Brunell. They point out he's completed 62 percent of his passes, thrown only four interceptions and has worked at times under a heavy pass rush. But the numbers also show that Brunell didn't complete passes downfield and couldn't produce enough points or wins.

"We were shocked," said Larry Campbell, asked for a reaction to his son's promotion when reached at his home in Mississippi. "At the same time, my heart goes out to Mark, too."

Brunell said this setback is different from two years ago, when Gibbs sat him in favor of Patrick Ramsey after nine games of the 2004 season. This time, Brunell said, he felt "pretty good" about how he played. More to the point, at age 36, he knows his career could be coming to an imminent close -- even if he won't say it out loud.

"My future isn't important right now," said Brunell, whose salary is scheduled to balloon to $5.2 million next season. "What's important is my role, to be ready if asked to go in. The future, those things will be thought about after the season."

Brunell, at least, got a chance to play this year. Todd Collins got demoted from No. 2 to No. 3 in this week's shuffle without taking a snap. Collins was supposed to be veteran insurance during the march to the playoffs, but that's a plan that never saw the light of day.

"Definitely disappointed, but not entirely surprised," Collins said. "You've got the young guy, they've got a lot invested in him. They have great hopes. You kind of saw it coming, if a change was going to be made."

Collins, who is 35 and hasn't started a game since 1997, has a future as murky as Brunell's.

"You've still got seven weeks to go," Collins said. "You never know what's going to happen, but it enters your mind sometimes."

An obvious question this week has been how much the offense will change now that it's being run by a younger, more mobile quarterback with a stronger arm. Assistant coach Saunders, who calls the plays, said he'll "go in a different direction" with parts of the game plan. But the coach also said he has yet to fully implement the schemes that worked so well for him in Kansas City.

"We've not tapped into a lot of things," Saunders said. "It's not the quarterback; it's the other 10 players. It's the whole system that has to be developed at a higher level before we can go to the next step."

As if the quarterback change weren't enough, the Redskins are dealing with running back Clinton Portis being out for the season with a broken hand.

The changes have broken the monotony of a losing season, and players are outwardly optimistic the switch to Campbell will bring a turnabout in fortune.

"He's really taken control, and I think he's going to be a good leader for us," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "What we're trying to look for is any kind of spark, and hopefully he creates a spark for us."

The exception is Gibbs, whose demeanor would indicate that Brunell-to-Campbell is the worst thing that's ever happened in professional football. The Hall of Fame coach has expressed no enthusiasm for his own decision, mainly because he's so fond of Brunell.

"We've been through a lot of tough things together," Gibbs said. "We went through the good times, and we went through some bumps in the road. It's a tough thing to go through."<

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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