’08 Preview: Washington must have patience

A new word has entered the Redskins’ vocabulary – patience.

Team owner Daniel Snyder was patient in his search for a new coach. In free agency, Snyder and executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato showed great patience and restraint. On draft day, the team patiently waited for players to fall to it.

So far, patience has paid off. Jim Zorn is adjusting to his first job as a head coach. No money was wasted in free agency. The Redskins got the players they wanted in the draft.

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

Patience will be imperative in the early going of the regular season. The Redskins play three of their first five games on the road, all against NFC East opponents. That’s a tough assignment, especially when the club is learning a new offense and adjusting to a new head coach.

Patience, however, does not mean this is a rebuilding year. Snyder, Cerrato and Zorn expect to win and be in the playoffs. That will be a challenge.

The Redskins are in arguably the NFC’s toughest division. Quarterback Jason Campbell is entering his fourth NFL season and learning his third new offense.

The Redskins should be competitive, and patience will be key. This is a team that has a chance to stay in the playoff race all year, but there will be times when things are not at all pretty.

Offense

Adjustments are in order. After four years of operating in Joe Gibbs’ one-back, power running game, the Redskins are shifting to Zorn’s horizontal West Coast offense. Sherman Smith has the title of offensive coordinator, but this is Zorn’s show.

Zorn is implementing the offense and calling the plays. The Redskins have the personnel to be successful in this attack, but everyone has to learn quickly. Zorn might need to rely on the running game if the passing game is slow to develop.

Defense

After four years as the defensive line coach, Greg Blache takes over as Washington’s defensive coordinator.

Blache believes in an aggressive defense. He expects his defensive line to provide pass-rush pressure and wants a big push up the middle from the tackles.

In run defense, Blache expects the front four to strip away the interference or occupy blockers so the linebackers can come in and clean up.

Blache has always done an excellent job of preparing his players for almost everything they will see an opponent do.

The book on: Jason Campbell

A rival sizes up the Redskins’ quarterback:

“Jason Campbell has a number of strong points. He has a strong arm, and he’s tall. His height enables him to see the field. He does a good job of not forcing things. He has the ability to make plays. One thing I really like is his willingness to stay within the system.

“A lot of times when a quarterback has Campbell’s athletic ability and speed, he’ll try to make more plays on his own or take more chances. (Campbell) doesn’t do that. He makes plays when everything else breaks down, but he’s not looking to run at the first sign of trouble. He gives the plays a chance to develop.

“He does need to do a better job of protecting the ball when he’s hit. He needs to improve his touch and accuracy on the shorter passes. That’s a problem you see with a lot of tall quarterbacks who have the kind of long, full windup, which is another reason he needs to get rid of the ball quicker.”

Bottom line

Zorn will need some time to learn how to handle all the things that engulf a head coach once the season begins. It could get shaky right off the bat with the tough early slate away from home, and closing the season with three of four games on the road is not in the Redskins’ favor, either.

Zorn, however, does not seem to be the type of coach who panics, and Washington’s players have shown in the past they never think the season is over, no matter how bad things look early on. Still, the NFC East is a tough division, and it’s hard to see where the Redskins made dramatic improvements.

SN prediction: 4-12, fourth in NFC East.

Paul Woody covers the Redskins for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Sporting News.


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Updated Thursday, Jul 17, 2008