BEREA — Jason Campbell’s “off day” schedule filled up quickly Tuesday. He was a guest on NFL Network’s morning show, then did a national radio interview.
A forgotten man for much of the last two years, he’s suddenly back in demand as quarterback of a Browns team unexpectedly in the playoff picture in November.
“It is just interviews that people wanted to do. I really don’t look at it as being back in the spotlight,” Campbell said. “I am in my ninth season and I have stressed and pressured myself before in the past and now it is just about having fun and win games and do the best I can to help this young football team grow and continue to keep competing.”
The quote is typical for the soft-spoken, easy-going, hard-to-rattle Campbell. But don’t mistake his indifference toward the spotlight for a lack of desire.
He’s been burning to be a starter since his collarbone broke in 2011 and Oakland dumped him after trading for Carson Palmer from Cincinnati.
“That was the whole goal,” Campbell said. “After I got hurt in Oakland, you find yourself on the outside looking in. My whole goal last year was to do a one-year contract and see if I could put myself in position to compete for a starting job or one day find myself back in this position, and it came.”
Not without a journey.
Campbell, 31, spent 2012 as the backup to Jay Cutler with the Bears. He started once, a dismal 32-7 loss to the 49ers on a Monday night.
He signed a two-year contract with the Browns in the offseason, but was slotted behind Brandon Weeden. Campbell’s chance only came after a season-ending injury to Brian Hoyer and the benching of Weeden for terrible play.
“You’re going to go through some highs and lows in this business and you’ve got to continue to keep pressing on and just stay looking forward,” Campbell said. “Don’t ever doubt yourself or doubt your abilities because situations don’t seem to flare up the right way that you think they should at times. Yeah, it hurt a little bit. It stung. But I think it made me a stronger person and helped make who I have become right now.”
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner watched from afar as Campbell had degrees of success as a starter with Washington and Oakland then was quickly relegated to backup status. Turner uses the career path as a lesson for the rest of the offense.
“You’re going to have ups and downs if you’re playing in the NFL,” Turner said. “Every play won’t go smooth, every quarter is not going to go smooth, every game is not going to go the way you want. He’s come in here each day and you wouldn’t know if he was the starter and we were on a win streak or if he was a guy who was told he wasn’t going to play. He’s approached it the same way.
“There are a lot of different things that can happen to you that can deter you and the beauty of what Jason has done is that he has not been affected. He understands there are going to be ups and downs.”
Not only does Campbell have the personality to withstand the difficult times, he’s shown the ability to emerge victorious on the other side.
“He’s a guy that I know when tough stretches come, he can respond to that adversity and battle through those tough stretches and that’s a key to that position,” coach Rob Chudzinski said.
The return to the starting lineup came Oct. 27 against undefeated Kansas City. Campbell nearly led an upset in a 23-17 loss, then snapped Cleveland’s 11-game losing streak to the Ravens. In the two starts, he’s 45-for-71 for 555 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions and a gaudy 110.9 rating.
Campbell’s next challenge is leading a young team on the road Sunday against first-place Cincinnati (6-4) in a game pivotal to the playoff hopes of the Browns (4-5).
“The combination of a veteran presence and a guy who’s right now playing with great confidence and our guys have great confidence in him, coaches and players, that certainly helps you,” Turner said.
“I think he’s a beautiful passer,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of Campbell on a conference call. “I think he’s doing a great job of managing the game. He doesn’t turn the football over, he continues to play mistake-free football. He’s been moving in the pocket, he’s been extending plays, getting opportunities to make first downs by moving and finding the open guy. And that’s impressive.”
The Browns beat the Bengals 17-6 in Week 4 with Hoyer at quarterback and Campbell as an afterthought. A lot can change in six weeks.
“I’m sure it feels great because when you start getting into your eighth, ninth (year) and you’re not the starter anymore and you’re kind of bouncing around, you always wonder if that’s it for you as being the guy and being the starter,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “But this is kind of a second chance for him and he’s making the most of it. He’s doing a great job and definitely enjoying it.”
But he’s not gloating. He’s maintained a great working relationship with Weeden, who’s been relegated to his backup.
“From the day he came in here, the first thing he told me was, ‘I know my role and I’m here to help you as much as I can,’ and he hasn’t changed,” Weeden said. “We’re still communicating and still talk, nothing is different and we didn’t even bat an eye. It’s the kind of person he is.
“It’s a business and we’re in this for the same thing — to win games — and that’s the way he’s always approached it. He’s been a backup and been in my situation. He’s been a starter. He knows how this thing works. He’s been positive and helped me get through the whole deal.”