Jason Campbell was practically run out of Washington when the Redskins beat out the Raiders for the services of Donovan McNabb. Being traded to a perennial cellar-dweller usually isn’t ideal for a starting quarterback — especially if that cellar-dweller has trouble protecting their signal caller.
Campbell reaction to becoming a Raider? “I just want to go there with open arms and work as hard as I can and put in all the effort I can and all the work,” Campbell told the NFL Network soon after the trade. “Get the team to buy into it and help us win and help us win some games. In the right situation we can do some good things together.”
That second part, ‘get the team to buy into it,’ didn’t go so well the first time around as the Raiders starter. After looking more like JaMarcus Russell and less like the Jason Campbell that whipped the Raiders in 2009, to start the season, Campbell was benched in favor of Raider Nation favorite Bruce Gradkowski.
When Campbell was benched, Tom Cable was clear about his feelings on his trio of quarterbacks. “I want to say this to you: We’re pretty lucky to have the three quarterbacks that we have — and the two guys who played, obviously, we haven’t had that kind of depth around here, I don’t think, in quite some time.” Even with the vote of confidence by his head coach, he was still being benched.
Monday, a reporter asked Campbell if he was the new Jim Plunkett, but Campbell shrugged saying, “I have no idea.” Fortunately, I do. No, Jason Campbell is not the ‘new’ Jim Plunkett. Campbell didn’t win a Heisman Trophy in college, he wasn’t expected to be a first round pick — let alone the first pick of the draft, and he only rode the pine for a little more than two games — not two years.
In fact, the only similar thing that Jason Campbell shares with Jim Plunkett is that his first win as a quarterback with the Raiders came against AFC West rival San Diego. Sure, they both failed with the teams that drafted them and each one took a beating doing it, physically and mentally, but Plunkett was also a fan favorite like Gradkowski. Plunkett also wasn’t supposed to start, like Gradkowski.
So, this talk about Campbell being Plunkett isn’t fair to anyone. What’s also not fair is being booed by the home crowd. Campbell has had to endure much of the discontent that Raiders fans still have about JaMarcus Russell and the losing record the team has had for seven years. “I know he’s been a fan favorite over the years and I was like, why would they not like me? I’ve only been here for a quarter and a half,” said Campbell of being booed in his first home game against the St. Louis Rams.
Campbell, understandably, could’ve sulked after getting the sort of treatment he received after six quarters of play, but he didn’t. “He never once in my discussions with him or watching him even acted like a guy who felt sorry for himself,” said head coach Tom Cable on Monday of Campbell. Instead, Campbell chose to look at himself to find what it was that was causing him to play so poorly.
“It was my main goal to just be ready when my number was called,” said Campbell of being forced to backup his former backup. “I’ve played this game for a long time and it was my first time not being a starter and sit and watch the games. There was time for me to do a self-evaluation of myself and see what I need to improve on and get better at.”
Looking at what he did on Sunday, it’s difficult to come to any conclusion other than whatever he did as a backup, it helped his game. Campbell was 13-18-1-0 for 159 yards and had a passer rating of 117.6 for the game. Not bad, but the question for this week, if Gradkowski isn’t able to go, can he do it when he’s the starter?
Campbell’s self-described problem was that he had been putting too much pressure on himself to start the season. “I felt like I was putting too much pressure on myself to make plays,” said Campbell of his first two regular season games as a Raider. “I wasn’t playing the way I knew how to play and the way I feel I can play.”
He went back to the film room and watched his performances against Tennessee and St. Louis, and knew that he could do better. “Your on a new team and there are high hopes for you, high hopes for the team to win,” said Campbell of how he felt at the start of the season. “You try to put all that on yourself and you try to make every play and you try to pressure yourself to make every play.”
That is a different way of putting what Tom Cable said he wanted to see from Campbell early in the season, “cut it loose.” Basically, less thinking and more doing, which doesn’t seem like the smartest thing for an NFL quarterback, but the point is that when you know everything you’re supposed to be doing well, you don’t have to think about it in the heat of the battle — it just comes naturally.
Sunday, against the Chargers, it seemed to come naturally for the on again – off again quarterback. If Gradkowski isn’t able to go on Sunday, which is a distinct possibility due to injuring his throwing shoulder, Campbell will start his most important game of his short Raiders career — the Battle of the Bay.
Winning that game…now that’s pressure.