Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder couldn't find his coach.
This isn't a reference to the 32-day search it took to name Jim Zorn as successor to Joe Gibbs after the Hall of Fame coach stepped down in January. Rather, this moment was on May 23 at Washington tight end Chris Cooley's wedding reception. Snyder, vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, their wives and other honchos from the Redskins were gathered at one table when Snyder blurted out, "Where's the coach?"
"We looked around and then we see Jim and his wife over at another table with (Washington quarterback) Jason (Campbell) and his girlfriend and you can tell they're talking about football," Cerrato said. "We just said, 'Leave him be, let him do his thing.' "
Said Zorn, a little sheepish about the idea of mixing business with pleasure: "Actually, we started talking before that. The pastor was 45 minutes late for the ceremony, so I was talking to Jason before the wedding."
AccuScore on the Redskins
With Jason Taylor, the Redskins defense is expected to perform well in 2008. It is holding opponents to less than 20 points per game, which is an impressive figure given the high-powered offenses they are facing in their division (Cowboys, Eagles, Giants) and outside (Arizona, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Seattle). The Redskins have upgraded their passing game through the draft and their new head coach Jim Zorn is expected to emphasize the passing game more this season. Despite their upgrades, the Redskins are actually forecasted for fewer wins in 2008 because of the tough competition in the division.
The question is can Washington be better if they employ a pass-first offense, like Seattle's West Coast offense. AccuScore ran simulations where the team passed 20 percent more than last season (translates to 60 percent pass vs. 40 percent rush). If Jason Campbell can learn yet another offense and keep his interception rate fairly low (just 17 INTs in 20 games), the Redskins do benefit by being a pass-heavy offense. The Redskins win an average of 8.4 wins per season simulation (half a game improvement) and their playoff chances increase to 35 percent.
Projected Record: 8-8
Playoff Probability: 30%
That moment is fraught with meaning. For as long as it took Snyder to settle on the talkative, energetic, mountain-climbing Zorn as head coach, the key to the Redskins finding out if Campbell is indeed the answer at quarterback is allowing Zorn to be the main voice communicating with Campbell.
Or as Campbell – a tall, bright and strong-armed son of a coach – put it: "I hope we can stay with this one system for awhile."
Including college, Campbell has played in seven offensive systems over the past eight years. While Gibbs is a brilliant offensive strategist, the message Campbell received over the past two years was fraught with contradiction as Gibbs and former Washington offensive coordinator Al Saunders tried to meld their ideas.
Gibbs was a run-first guy; Saunders pass-first. While they were able to get along, the meeting of philosophies resulted in mediocrity.
"I think one voice is pretty much the ultimate goal of any coach or coordinator who wants to run an offense," Cooley said. "We got into a system last year where everyone thought it was OK. Everyone thought what we did was OK and we ended up being OK. We were average. We could have been great. We have great players. We had a great scheme. I just think we got mixed up a lot. I'm not going to blame it on any one person. You can blame it on the players. I can blame it on myself. I should have made more plays."
Said wide receiver Santana Moss: "Coach Gibbs is a great coach and coach Saunders is a great coach, but they each had their way that they wanted to do it. Now, we have one way with coach Zorn and we have the players that we can do whatever we want."
In part, the confusion was a product of Snyder's eagerness to build the best team possible. When Gibbs expressed frustration with the increased workload he endured after returning as coach in 2004, Snyder's answer was rightly to give him more help. Saunders was brought in from Kansas City in 2006 to be assistant head coach and run the offense.
Campbell, drafted as the franchise's future with its first-round pick in '05, did not play as a rookie. He played seven games in 2006 and 13 in 2007, showing some progress but with still plenty of development ahead.
"Things are starting to come to me, but it's all about winning games," Campbell said. "You can throw for three touchdowns in a game and play well, but if you don't win that's what people are going to remember."
Under Zorn, 55, who played 11 years at quarterback in the NFL and annually climbs Mount Rainier in Washington state, Campbell is getting a full dose of fundamental work. That includes some odd drills. Among the things that Zorn does is have other players throw either giant orthopedic workout balls or tackling bags at Campbell to simulate the action that happens in the pocket. Campbell must slide in the pocket, keep his focus downfield and then deliver the ball.
Zorn pays close attention to Campbell in practice.
(AP Photo/Paldo Martinez Monsivais)
"Everything we're doing is about things that directly correlate to playing quarterback," said Zorn, who was hired on Feb. 9. "We're working on Jason's stance in the pocket all the time, making sure he keeps his vision even when there are distractions … we don't just drop back seven steps every time against no pass rush and then throw. That just doesn't happen in the game that much."
Campbell's development is even more critical when you consider the arms race that is the NFC East. Dallas has Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo, Philadelphia has Pro Bowler (and one-time Super Bowl participant) Donovan McNabb and the Giants just saw Eli Manning do some maturing on the way to a Super Bowl title. If the Redskins are going to keep pace, Campbell has to pick up his rate of improvement.
"I know who the other guys in this division are. But I have to concentrate on just doing my job first," Campbell said. "That's the emphasis right now … Last year at this time, there was a lot of pressure on Eli (Manning) because people thought he hadn't done enough, but you see how they stuck with him and he came around."
These days in practice, Zorn rarely leaves the quarterbacks for more than a few minutes. He is constantly evaluating and coaching, in the quarterbacks' ears on every play. It has gotten to the point that Campbell already knows Zorn's idiosyncrasies.
"When he doesn't like what happens on a play, if the quarterback makes a mistake, he turns around, looks at the rest of the quarterbacks and says, 'Get back,'nbsp;" Campbell said. "He does it every time, even if we're all back behind the line."
There's something to be said for consistency. The Redskins are hoping it says a lot.