On Friday May 2nd, 2008, something very important happened in Ashburn, Va. New Washington Redskins head coach Jim Zorn opened his first practice. Whether you were happy with Owner Daniels Snyder's selection of Zorn as head coach to replace Joe Gibbs really doesn't matter, it's done. Now it's time to find out what Zorn is all about. What will the Redskins look like under Zorn? A number of reports have come from the "media throng" at Redskins Park and I have come to the following conclusion: Zorn is the right man for the job.
Why? For one, I like what I am reading from the players. Not what they are saying but the way they seem to be saying things. We all know that players are going to be "politically correct" when it comes to a new coaching staff. But there seems to be genuine enthusiasm in the many quotes being offered. One particularly intriguing comment I have seen was a story Redskins Quarterback Jason Campbell told reporters the other day. At the NFL scounting combing in 2005, the year Campbell was drafted, Zorn spent some time with Campbell:
"I knew Seattle wasn't taking me because they had Matt Hasselbeck, but he was saying all this nice stuff to me," Campbell said yesterday after the first practice of mini-camp at Redskins Park. "Here he is giving me all this time, telling me about what I could accomplish with the talent I have, and he didn't have to do that because I'm not going there. He just came off as a real nice guy, and it really teaches you that first impressions are everything. I know it's going to work out with Coach Zorn here because I've known for a long time what type of person he is."
What a way to start a relationship. This could almost be viewed as destiny. Campbell and Zorn were meant to work together. I am sure Zorn spoke with many young quarterbacks at the scouting combine over the years but the fact that he spent time with Campbell then must offer Campbell an incredible amount of confidence in his new leader. He knows Zorn is being genuine with his encouragement. Not just playing him to keep things moving along. Jason Campbell will set the tone for his offensive teammates as the learning process continues and his comfort level will be key to the growth of the Redskins under new head coach Jim Zorn.
Zorn's enthusiasm for the game itself and his love for coaching also was on display on the first day of mini-camp: On one play young wide receiver Anthony Mix was thrown a pass in the corner of the end zone, the ball was batted by the DB on the play, but Mix stayed on the ball, and after juggling it a bit, made the catch. He was out of bounds when he finally had control of the ball, but Zorn took off down field, "like a shot gun", according to Jason Campbell. He was sprinting down field to congratulate Mix on his effort to finish the play. On another play rookie wide receiver Malcom Kelly was badly overthrown after beating his man on a deep route, he pulled up and did not continue his effort to get to the ball. Zorn went after him and let him know that that was unacceptable. Always "finish" the play.
For those who think Jim Zorn may be "too nice": Corner back Shawn Springs intercepts a pass, and cuts across field looking for blockers, as he rounds the corner he attempts a lateral to fellow corner back Fred Smoot, Zorn erupts, yelling "Don't do that! Don't do that!" as he sprints across the field. Most players on the field at the time had not seen that side of their new head coach yet. Now they know. There is another side to Zorn.
His practices are expected to be "up tempo", and his practice philosophy is simple. He'd rather run 10 plays perfectly, than 100 "so-so". So he would rather run the same play over and over again all day if it means getting it "right" before they move on to the next one. He wants this team to be crisp and to play together. With a shortened "off-season" due to being scheduled to play in the pre-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts in the annual Hall of Fame Game, Zorn doesn't have a lot of time to install his offense and his new identity. But for the Redskins, he has already taken a big step forward.
Jason Campbell and his offensive teammates will need to take a proactive role in learning the new offense, and put in extra time on their own. After practice, during their "off" time, they need to be together, studying film, running routes, and talking through what they will see from opposing defenses. They will be learning Zorn's version of the west coast offense, on the fly. But that may not be a bad thing as the offense will be "under construction" on the fly too. The Zorn identity is coming together, and I can't wait to see the results.