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Auburn's Campbell reaping more rewards for turnaround (pre-draft article)

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Posted on Sat, Apr. 16, 2005

Auburn's Campbell reaping more rewards for turnaround


Associated Press

AUBURN, Ala. - Jason Campbell's college coach marvels at his adaptability. An NFL draft expert said Campbell's fourth offensive coordinator helped forge an unprecedented transformation.

The former Auburn quarterback wonders what all the fuss is about.

"People look at me totally different than they did last year," Campbell said after a recent workout on Auburn's practice field. "I always knew I was a great quarterback."

It took a change in offensive systems to let the public - and the NFL - in on that secret.

No matter how Campbell downplays his remarkable rise last season, it's hard to minimize the change in perception. Gil Brandt, the NFL's director of scouting, said Campbell would likely have been drafted even without a stellar senior year.

Now, though, Campbell is projected as a second-round pick who might even slip into the first round. Brandt jokes that Campbell should give offensive coordinator Al Borges "part of his signing bonus."

"I think that probably Borges did more for him this year than had ever been done before," Brandt said.

Borges, the fourth offensive coordinator in Campbell's five years at Auburn, installed a West Coast offense that the quarterback says was a much better fit for his talents.

The oft-criticized Campbell responded with easily his best season. He was named the Southeastern Conference's offensive player of the year and was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award given to the nation's top senior quarterback.

More importantly for NFL teams looking for a proven winner, Campbell led the Tigers to a 13-0 record and No. 2 national ranking.

"I feel like one more year in this kind of offense, I probably would have been a Top 10 draft pick," he said. "But everything happens for a reason."

His exposure to so many different offenses didn't hurt his stock, though the constant change certainly didn't help his career stats. Campbell said NFL executives praised him for "the way you stayed grounded and didn't let it bother you."

"I feel like it worked out," Campbell said. "A lot of people say the four coordinators is probably a negative thing, but I've talked to so many teams and so many people that say that's a positive. In the NFL, you're always going to have to learn different things. It was impressive to them."

Campbell threw for 20 touchdowns and 2,700 yards while completing 69.6 percent of his passes as a senior, all easily career highs. He flourished under an offense that spread the wealth and fully utilized tailbacks Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, both likely Top 10 picks.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said Campbell deserves most of the credit for his improved play, not his supporting cast or coaches.

"The guy that should get credit for Jason Campbell, how he played this year, is one guy: Jason Campbell," Tuberville said. "In this business, you learn from success and you learn from failure.

"He's very unassuming. He understands his strengths and he understands his weaknesses and always tried to make himself better. He made people around him better."

Tuberville also praised how Campbell handled the revolving door for offensive coordinators.

"I think he adjusted as well as anybody I've ever been around," he said. "He's a polished player that's got a chance to be a lot more polished.

"This past year was just a small indication of what he can do."

One NFL team will be banking on that.

The 6-foot-4, 221-pound Campbell has visited Carolina, Tennessee and Cleveland and worked out privately for Miami, Chicago and New England. Brandt said Campbell might have made a mistake by not working out at the NFL combine when head coaches and general managers were present, but he made a good impression at Auburn's pro day.

"He threw the ball a lot better than people thought he could," Brandt said. "I think they were very pleased with his athletic ability and I think that people that have interviewed him realize he understands football quite well."

The player nicknamed "The Future" by his Auburn teammates as a freshman also understands the criticism he received for much of his career.

"It's just something that a quarterback goes through," Campbell said.

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