Jim Zorn Finds His Rhythm: Redskins Coach's Experience Gives Reason for Hope

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Jim Zorn Finds His Rhythm: Redskins Coach's Experience Gives Reason for Hope
(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Of the four big issues facing the Washington Redskins' offense, head coach Jim Zorn is the least discussed.

Skepticism about quarterback Jason Campbell, fears about the offensive line, and doubt about young wide receivers get more ink in the buildup to the season.

Jim Zorn's progress as head coach has the greater impact.

Zorn's performance in the Steelers preseason game gives reason for hope.

He gambled on a deep pass on the opening play of Washington's first possession. He called a fake punt on the same 15-play drive that controlled the clock for almost seven minutes and ended with a score. He did this in the first quarter, when the Steelers weren't expecting it and while there was time to recover from any setbacks.

After a lethargic performance against the Baltimore Ravens, Zorn found the exact way to energize his team. He called them "soft."

That's a fighting word to football players, but Zorn knew to do it. It motivated the Skins' snarly nature against the Steelers.

Jim Zorn knows his team and is using his knowledge aggressively. Mr. Zorn has found his rhythm. 

Last year, the more the season fell apart, the more conservative a coach Zorn became. The accidental coach can't be blamed for that entirely. He was contending with degraded blocking and with receivers who delivered Brandon Lloyd-like performances. 

But just as fans expect their quarterback to be a playmaker, they want their coach to be a turnaround artist on the order of the Philadelphia Eagles' Andy Reid.

The Eagles stood at 5-5-1 by week 12, 2008, including an embarrassing tie with the then 1-8 Cincinnati Bengals. The Redskins' December win at home against the Eagles seemed to knock Philadelphia out of playoff contention.

Yet Reid guided the Eagles to a wild card spot and led them as far as the conference championship game. Reid did that with pedestrian wide receivers and a subpar (for him) performance from Brian Westbrook.

Reid found the right way to motivate quarterback Donovan McNabb: He benched him.

In spite of the sweep by Washington, Reid made the playoffs because he did what Jim Zorn failed to do—beat the Rams and 49ers and tie the Bengals, teams whose combined 2008 win-loss record was 13-34-1.
 
It's no coincidence that Reid, who has the best win-loss record in the NFC East since 1999—97-56-1—is also the longest serving coach in the division. Time on the job counts.

If you've had a career for longer than five years, you've seen this principle at work. It's the sense that you do better in your second and third season on the job just because you know what to expect and how to prepare.

Talent gets the job. Practice hones skills. Only time allows the experience to know what to do better.

Winning isn't just about having all the best players. It's about making the best use of the talent you've got.

Brian Orakpo and Albert Haynesworth may be great additions for the Redskins. Those young receivers may finally come through. Jason Campbell might improve his performance by 33 percent.

But the Redskins might win two more games this season just because Jim Zorn has a better sense of what to do with his talent—quarterback, receivers, O-line, and all.

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