Saints TE Campbell thriving in comeback Print
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Wednesday, 20 August 2008 22:41
NFL Headline News

 METAIRIE, La. (AP) -Coming back from a bad back is tough enough in pro football.
So when Saints veteran tight end Mark Campbell finally returned in good health after missing all of 2007, only to see New Orleans trade for four-time Pro Bowl selection Jeremy Shockey, it had to feel like a kick in the back side, right?
Not necessarily.
``I welcome Jeremy here for a multitude of different reasons,'' said Campbell, a 10-year veteran who has also played for Cleveland and Buffalo. ``One is so we can win a championship. I mean, how many more years am I going to be able to play? A championship is my priority at this point.
``And it's going to take some pounding off my body. So if he can come in and play well and I can go out and play my role and still do it well, who knows? Maybe I can play another five years.''
Campbell, 32, is in the final year of a three-year contract with the New Orleans Saints. He's appeared in only a pair of preseason games since having surgery to repair disks in his lower back, but his performance so far indicates he's still got it.
Going into Saturday night's exhibition game in Cincinnati, Campbell was New Orleans' second-leading receiver with 80 yards receiving on five catches, some of them difficult ones in which he reached over his head, exposing his torso to heavy hits, but still held on for the reception.
``I was encouraged ... to see him make some tough catches, take some hits and get up,'' head coach Sean Payton said. ``He made some good catches in traffic. I think a couple of them gave us a big boost.''
That's a pretty good start for a player who considers run-blocking, rather than receiving, his forte.
``Early on in my career I wanted to be a receiver because those guys were paid more,'' Campbell said with a chuckle. ``That's the reality of it, but truthfully, God gave me a different ability and I'm a run-blocking guy. I've accepted that.''
That's not to say he doesn't have faith in his ability to make a big catch once in a while, such as his 38-yard reception against Houston last Saturday night.
``I'm not going to run by any cornerbacks ... but I can be really effective in intermediate routes.''
Campbell's pro career began when he was signed by the Browns as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan in 1999. After four seasons in Cleveland and three in Buffalo, he joined New Orleans in 2006, the year the Saints advanced to the NFC championship for the first time in franchise history. His presence on the offensive line helped Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush combine for more than 1,600 yards rushing during a 10-6 regular season. He also caught 18 passes for 164 yards.
During the following training camp, he was trying to block Saints defensive end Charles Grant in practice when his back gave out. He initially tried to manage the pain with rest, hoping he could still play during the regular season. Still unable to play in Week 2 of the regular season, he realized the injury was more serious than he'd thought. He agreed to go on injured reserve, have surgery and even began to ponder whether he should retire.
``When I first got the news I had to have surgery on my back, I'd say that's one of the key injuries - back or neck - where guys are like, 'That's it. I'm done,''' said Campbell, who has a 2 1/2-year-old son and whose wife, Michelle, is pregnant. ``We all want to play as long as we can, but you definitely want to be able to have a normal life, play ball with the kids or whatever, so it was definitely something that crossed my mind.''
Campbell also hopes to become an on-air sports personality. He's had radio shows during his playing career, has attended the NFL Films broadcasting school and also worked as an intern with a New York production company.
In the month leading up to his operation, Campbell had time to think as he went through a routine of prescribed exercises known as ``prehab,'' and ultimately decided that, if he felt good after surgery, he'd keep playing.
``There's not a guy that I'm more happy for right now than Mark Campbell,'' quarterback Drew Brees said. ``That really puts a lot of things in perspective when you feel like your career might even be threatened. You know? A back injury for a tight end who's late in his career? Mark has worked so hard to fight back from that and he looks as good now as I've ever seen him and I've heard that comment made by several people who knew him as a younger player, too. ... He's a big part of the spirit and energy of this team.''
Campbell, meanwhile, is all smiles on the practice field and in the locker room, confident that he'll enjoy sharing playing time on a team he believes can win.
``I feel good because I know what my role is,'' Campbell said. ``That's why I've played 10 years now, because I know what I do best. I don't try to be something I'm not. Jeremy's going to be our guy and I'm the run-blocker.''
Just don't be shocked if Campbell makes a few clutch catches along the way.

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