By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 19, 2008
After hearing disturbing rumors earlier in the offseason about his status with the Washington Redskins, quarterback Jason Campbell figured it was time to speak with new coach Jim Zorn. There were rumblings Zorn was not committed to Campbell as the starter next season, and Campbell wanted to know where he stood.
Campbell came back from vacation in February and met with Zorn at Redskins Park, hoping for some answers. Campbell said Zorn did much more than he expected.
"He told me it wasn't true. He told me this is my team," Campbell said after workouts this week at the complex. "He made it clear that I'm the quarterback the Redskins are going to grow with. He told me that I'm still developing as a young quarterback, but that he thinks I have it all. . . . I have what it takes to take us to where we want to go. That was a confidence-builder."
Fully recovered from the dislocated left kneecap that cut short his 2007 season, Campbell is assuming a leadership role in the voluntary offseason workout program that began March 17. He has focused on refining his passing mechanics under the guidance of Zorn and new quarterbacks coach Chris Meidt while also working with the receiving corps and studying videotape of himself daily. Campbell has set the tone for his teammates, players said, displaying his work ethic and professionalism amid change for the Redskins.
In less than two weeks, Washington will begin its first minicamp in five years without former coach Joe Gibbs, and start the transition to Zorn's version of the West Coast offense. Campbell said he's optimistic about what's ahead for the Redskins and committed to Zorn's new way of doing things.
"Whatever [Zorn] needs me to do, whatever he needs from me, I'm ready," Campbell said. "I know he knows what he's doing; you can tell he's so smart about what he does. It's early; we're really just getting started with everything, but I feel good about what we're doing."
Since workouts began, most of Campbell's time on the practice field has centered on footwork and positioning his body correctly while passing in the quick-paced scheme Zorn will unveil during minicamp, which begins May 2. The pass-oriented offense of former play-caller Al Saunders, now with the St. Louis Rams, was predicated on timing and rhythm. Quarterbacks throw to spots before receivers complete their routes, and receivers, in theory, are supposed to make big gains after catching balls in stride.
Timing is a component of Zorn's offense as well, but "everything we do in it is a quicker reaction," Campbell said. "It's done at a different speed, there's no wasted movement, because it is a West Coast offense. That's what you have to be ready for."
In preparing Campbell and backup Todd Collins for his offense, Zorn has instructed them in drills designed to improve their footwork and placement of the ball before beginning their throwing motion. Zorn was the Seattle Seahawks' quarterbacks coach before joining the Redskins, and his reputation as a good teacher is well deserved, Campbell said.
"The thing I love about him is that he talks a lot," he said. "He was a quarterback, so with him having played the position before, he'll take the ball himself and be like, 'Okay, let's try it this way.' He'll demonstrate it for you, so it's not just like you're hearing it. He's demonstrating it for you, and then you're running with it. He was a quarterback, but he's really a players' coach no matter your position.
"He's not like an in-your-face guy. He's a teacher. When you mess up, he lets you know, but he's just trying to help you be successful. And he always talks about footwork. He always talks about don't be so mechanical. He wants you to play loose, play relaxed and just try to do things right and take the game to the next level."
Zorn was unavailable to comment because the Redskins were in meetings preparing for the NFL draft April 26-27. Early during the voluntary workouts last month, Zorn said he was pleased with the progress he had observed in Campbell's passing mechanics.
While working under Coach Mike Holmgren in Seattle, Zorn devised numerous drills designed to simulate in-game situations. Some of the drills require quarterbacks to act as if they're being pursued by defenders while repositioning the ball and, although Zorn's unconventional methods seem strange, "they work," Campbell said. "Like this one drill he has where you act like a defender is running at you. You've got to react quickly while you hold the ball, you take your [other] hand and [pretend] to push him out of the way. You step back or you step forward, while you push him out of the way, like acting.
"I was open-minded about doing it because I did it in a couple of games last year, but Coach Zorn actually has a drill for it. Some coaches will tell you you've got to secure the ball, but he says sometimes you've got to be an athlete and make a play. And he says that sometimes you don't have a choice but to try to make a play that way. Yeah, some people could look at that as wacky, but the way he teaches it, it's part of the game."
When minicamp begins, Campbell will be in his eighth offensive system in nine seasons. Campbell has not complained about having to learn another new offense, his teammates said, and his positive approach to Zorn's plan has inspired others.
"He's confident," fullback Mike Sellers said. "He's exuding that, so it's rubbing off on all of us and making us feel better. The man is a student of the game, and he's a consummate quarterback. Everybody respects him."
The Redskins re-signed Collins after he led the team to a season-ending four-game winning streak. Collins struggled in a first-round playoff loss to Seattle, but his strong performance during Washington's late-season run contributed to the talk Campbell heard.
"You always hear rumors, but you know what you can do," Campbell said. "You know that you're the leader of the team, the quarterback of the team, and I appreciated what Coach Zorn said to me. I look at Todd as a good friend. I enjoy being around the guy because he's so funny, but I also know where I can take my game.
"I know where I can be. I've got all the confidence in the world that I can be one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. I'm not trying to let anything stop me."