Raiders’ Campbell prepares for home debut against Rams
OAKLAND – The switch at quarterback from JaMarcus Russell to Jason Campbell was the biggest reason for an offseason of optimism for the Oakland Raiders.
With the former No. 1 pick turned draft bust long gone, Campbell was supposed to revive a struggling franchise and spark an offense that had struggled to do much of anything in recent years.
So far, not so good.
Campbell had a rough debut in Tennessee and now will play his first regular season home game as a Raider against the St. Louis Rams (0-1), in front of what figures to be a small but skeptical crowd frustrated by seven years of losing.
“I’m pretty sure the Oakland fans would like to see a different team than we saw and what they saw last week on the road,” Campbell said. “It’s definitely an opportunity for us. It’s exciting. It’ll be my first game at home in the regular season, so it’s just trying to get things going in the right direction.”
Things have been going the wrong direction in Oakland ever since the team lost the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay in 2003. The Raiders (0-1) have lost at least 11 games for the past seven years seasons, with poor quarterback play often being a major cause.
Campbell was acquired during the draft from Washington after spending five seasons with the Redskins. He became the 12th quarterback to start a game for the Raiders during that run when he went 22 for 37 for 180 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the 38-13 loss to Tennessee.
The Raiders gained just 106 yards in the first half and Campbell had little time to throw behind a porous offensive line. He was sacked four times, on the run plenty of others, and too often checked down when he did have time.
“I felt like we were so concerned about making mistakes that we weren’t playing loose, and guys just weren’t cutting it loose,” Campbell said. “So I just feel like we just got to get back to playing football, get back to having fun, like we were doing in preseason, and cut it loose. You can’t win games being afraid to miss a play or make a bad throw or miss a run or miss a tackle. If you’re playing loose, you’ll make more than you miss.”
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has seen more of Campbell in the regular season than the Raiders have. As linebackers coach in Philadelphia, defensive coordinator with the New York Giants and last year in St. Louis, Spagnuolo has faced Campbell five times over the years.
Campbell has won just one of those matchups against Spagnuolo’s blitz-happy defenses but has made enough big plays to make Spagnuolo nervous about this meeting. The Rams come into this game banged-up at linebacker and in the secondary.
“Fortunately or unfortunately I’ve had to coach against him quite a number of times when he was at Washington,” Spagnuolo said.
“I’ve always known this about Jason. He’s a quality quarterback that can at any time make a big play with his arm or with his feet. When you go against quarterbacks like that it can always be scary for a defense. It’s going to be a pretty good challenge for our defense.”
The Rams also brought in a new quarterback to change a pattern of losing for a franchise that won just six games the past three seasons. St. Louis selected Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick and signed him to a six-year, $78 million contract with $50 million in guaranteed money.
Spagnuolo started Bradford in the opener and did little to take it easy on his rookie. Bradford threw 55 passes in a 17-13 loss to Arizona, completing 32 for 253 yards and a touchdown. He threw three interceptions, including one on a desperation pass at the end.
“For them to have the confidence in me to allow me to throw it 55 times, that definitely makes me feel more confident knowing that they have no problem putting the ball in my hands,” Bradford said. “When we’re throwing it 55 times, that probably means that things aren’t working out in our favor so, would I like to throw it 55 times? No. But at the same time, if it’s something that we have to do as a football team, then I’m very comfortable doing it.”
The Raiders want to make Bradford feel as uncomfortable as possible in his first road start in the NFL. Oakland rebuilt its front-seven in the offseason, with defensive tackle Tommy Kelly the only player back in the same position he played last year.
The Raiders struggled last week against Chris Johnson, Vince Young and the Titans, but hope to be able to mix things up enough to confuse Bradford this week.
Bradford will also have to deal with a road crowd that is expected to be short of a sellout but could present other problems.
“I talked to Steven Jackson a little bit about it,” Bradford said. “He said it’s actually pretty fun. He said it’s a nasty crowd, they’re violent, they yell at you. But those are the type of crowds that make it enjoyable to play. I am looking forward to the challenge.”