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Zorn Gets Started by Learning Who He Is, and Who He's Not

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 3, 2008

PALM BEACH, Fla., April 2 -- The playbook is ready for the upcoming offseason practices. The freshness of being named a first-time NFL head coach has begun to wear off, and the dates on the calendar have been circled for the first preseason and regular season games.

Jim Zorn has started to settle in as coach of the Washington Redskins. But there are plenty of firsts still to come, and as he spoke at the NFC coaches' media breakfast Wednesday at a Palm Beach resort on the final day of the annual league meeting, Zorn said he knows he will face regular comparisons to his Hall of Fame predecessor, Joe Gibbs.

"I'm going to try to do my thing," Zorn said. "I think what Joe would want is not me trying to pay homage to him by doing what he did. I appreciate what he's done. It's incredible to walk into our facility and see three Super Bowl trophies. All three have his name on them. . . . I can't worry about comparisons. We're starting out with a clean slate and I'll take each day as it comes."

Zorn, who said he intends to lean on Gibbs as a resource, is a racing fan and has spoken to Gibbs about NASCAR, and he plans to continue their occasional conversations.

"We're going to talk often," Zorn said.

Zorn already has found that his job is about finding ways to blend the franchise's past and present. He wasn't in the organization last season to experience the anguish of the shooting death of safety Sean Taylor. But when he and other team officials, including owner Daniel Snyder, had dinner here Tuesday night, they toasted Taylor on what would have been his 25th birthday. Zorn said he's having a collage of pictures of Taylor assembled to hang in his office at Redskins Park and will continue to have Taylor's locker left intact.

When it comes to following Gibbs, Zorn said his challenge is to get his players to accept a new way of doing things without dishonoring Gibbs's methods.

"Players realize that things change," Zorn said. "Each year is a new year and things don't stay the same. . . . I just want to make sure we're concentrating on the right things. I don't want guys to be saying, 'That's not the way we used to do it.' I'm hoping they'll say, 'This is the way we do things now.' I want to do that without discounting what he's done."

He obviously doesn't have any friends among the league's schedule-makers. He's a rookie coach trying to squeeze everything in, and yet the Redskins are scheduled to open the preseason in the Hall of Fame game and then face the Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants, on the road in the season-opening game Sept. 4. The offseason will be shorter for the Redskins than for any other team.

"I was just going, 'Oh my gosh' to have to play those games," Zorn said. "But in the next breath, you say, 'That's how it goes' and you set yourself to go. . . . The challenge is set. I hope to meet the challenge."

He has blended his passing offense with the Redskins' previous running offense and has a playbook ready to go for minicamp, he said. The Redskins might begin next season as a run-first team, but he wants to make the offense balanced between running and passing as soon as he can, he said. He has begun working with quarterback Jason Campbell, mostly on footwork, and said he has found Campbell to be agile enough to thrive in Zorn's version of the West Coast offense, which emphasizes the passing game.

Matt Hasselbeck, Zorn's former pupil in Seattle, "developed over several years," Zorn said. "So I think Jason is going to have to develop over several years. The thing we've got to do is make sure that we don't give him so much that he can't function. . . . I expect there to be some carryover from things he's already done. The run game should not be a difficult burden for him. We can really concentrate on the passing game. . . . The learning process might be through training camp, but we'll get that down."

The Redskins have been unusually inactive in free agency. But Zorn said he was in the team's offices at 1:30 a.m. on the day the market opened and found Snyder was prepared to be as aggressive as ever. Club officials simply couldn't strike deals they considered reasonable, Zorn said, and now the team will look to the NFL draft to address a list of needs that includes a safety, defensive lineman and wide receiver and depth on the offensive line.

"It's kind of the way it's worked out," Zorn said.

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