Comfortably Campbell

Comfortably Campbell

To say that Jason Campbell is as comfortable as he's ever been during his NFL career would be a serious understatement. The veteran quarterback, whose stellar play over the final five games last season enabled the Raiders to reach the .500 mark for the first time in 9 years, looked far more relaxed and at ease during the team's offseason workouts in Atlanta than he has in a long,time.

Campbell assisted Richard Seymour in running the minicamp, following a pattern he established earlier in the offseason when he got together with some of Oakland's wide receivers for private workouts. He even invited some of the receivers to stay at his house in Washington, D.C. during the offseason to help build camaraderie.

He also has been digesting the playbook he got from head coach Hue Jackson, trying to get comfortable with the tweaks made by new offensive coordinator Al Saunders.

In short, Campbell is doing everything the Raiders hoped he would when they traded for him during the middle of the 2010 draft.

"He is reaching out to people, taking charge of situations, and people are looking to him," wide receiver Nick Miller said of Campbell. "You can feel it. The whole vibe has changed. The quarterback is the leader of the team, and he's definitely the guy right now."

JaMarcus Russell never got such ringing endorsements. In fact, save for an occasional vote of confidence from their teammates, very few Raiders quarterbacks have had the full backing of their teammates since Rich Gannon's career came to an abrupt end in 2004.

Yet despite of all of that, Campbell's future in Oakland remains very much in doubt, for numerous reasons.

Although the team bypassed drafting a quarterback – despite several mock drafts suggesting the Raiders do just that – and is apparently ready to sever ties with oft-injured Bruce Gradkowski, Campbell hasn't exactly been given a vote of confidence.

For one, there were reports that 81-year-old team owner Al Davis made preliminary inquiries about the availability of Alex Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick whose career in San Francisco has been rocky at best.

This came on the heels of Jackson talking about his desire to bring in a young quarterback. Jackson, who worked closely with Campbell as the Raiders offensive coordinator last year, might have even been open to drafting a quarterback but was generally unmoved by crop of rookie QBs coming out.

Then there's this little kicker: Campbell's contract, a two-year deal signed shortly after he came over from Washington, expires at the end of the 2011 season and there's been no indication thus far that a new one is in the works.

So while Campbell has been prepping for the upcoming season (whenever that might be), he can't afford to get too content.

"I'm the starting quarterback and I feel like I earned it," Campbell said on ProFootballTalk Live. "It wasn't something that was given to (me). Moving forward, my goal is to get the team into the playoffs. Last year we felt like we got over the hump … and you understand you're right there. You can see it and you can feel it." The Raiders made great strides in 2010, most of them on the ground. Running back Darren McFadden's emergence took a lot of pressure off the rest of the offense and enabled Oakland to pile up some pretty impressive numbers.

At times it seemed like the Raiders won in spite of the passing game. Campbell, whom Davis infamously compared to two-time Super Bowl winner, was yanked in and out of the lineup by former head coach Tom Cable and didn't play with any consistency until Cable's chosen one, Gradkowski, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Cable's favoring of Gradkowski over Campbell, in fact, played a key role in his being fired and replaced by Hue Jackson.

At the press conference announcing Jackson's hiring in January, Davis once again rose to offer his support for Campbell.

"When (the coaching staff) took Campbell out in one of the early games, I wanted to know why," Davis said. "They gave me the reasons why, and I went with it. I went with Gradkowski, but I also realized that as good as Gradkowski is for a single game, we can't hold up the injury factor from happening. He incurs injuries and that worries the hell out of me. I like continuity. But I think Jason Campbell's a talent. That's my opinion.

"Jason came a long way in the year 2010. There are some things we have to do with him, but I think the guy who's going to be handling him in the future (Jackson) knows what to do and how to do it."

Jackson agrees, noting that Campbell's slow start was understandable because he had to learn a new system after spending the first five years of his NFL career with the Washington Redskins. "Any time you come into a different environment, when you're coming from Washington to Oakland, for most players sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get comfortable," Jackson said. "I think that's happened. But I think what happens is I got to know Jason and Jason got to know me and his teammates. We wish that process would have happened faster but in my opinion over the last seven, six weeks of the season, I think the young man … he played flawless. He played almost as good as you can play as a quarterback in our league."

Nevertheless, it's clear the Raiders don't consider the quarterback position locked down. In the weeks leading up to the NFL draft, there were several reports citing the Raiders as being one of the team's interested in Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, whom the team had worked out weeks before. Jackson wouldn't confirm it, but Oakland was so high on the Northern California native that the Raiders tried to pry the 33rd overall pick in the draft away from New England in order to take Kaepernick.

The Pats resisted, of course, and Kaepernick wound up going to San Francisco. Jackson, while not denying the team's interest in Kaepernick, said there simply wasn't quality talent available when Oakland went on the clock. "I didn't see Sam Bradford, I didn't see Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan," Jackson said. "I just think there were more guys who have an opportunity to ascend and become very good players as you continue to go through the years with them.

"Would I love to get a younger arm on this team? Yes, no question. I think every year you want to find a young arm, a more talented guy that you have a chance to groom and grow as you move forward in your system."

Oakland reportedly made inquiries about the availability of Smith, who has spent his entire career with the 49ers but will be a free agent when the labor dispute ends. Since then, Smith has made it public he intends to re-sign with the 49ers.

The Raiders have also been mentioned in connection with Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Pryor was suspended for the first five games of the upcoming season but decided to give up college after Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel was fired.

Pryor, who will be available in the supplemental draft, is a longshot to make it in the NFL, according to many experts, but that won't slow Davis down if he's interested. After all, he drafted Ronald Curry, a quarterback at North Carolina, and turned him into a fairly decent wide receiver before injuries derailed Curry's career.

For now, though, the plan is to stick with Campbell and backup Kyle Boller. At some point the Raiders will also have to find an emergency QB to have ready.

Jackson, the man who will be calling the shots – and plays – for the Raiders, says he's more than comfortable with Campbell running the offense. "The number one characteristic that guy's got to have is leadership," Jackson said. "He's got to be able to lead the team, because he is the face of this franchise. That's first and foremost. Number two, he's got to be able to complete the ball. He's got to be able to throw it straight enough to the guys he's throwing it to. And he's got to be able to display courage, because playing quarterback is tough in the National Football League. We're very comfortable with where we are with Jason on our football team at this time."

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