With Minicamp, Zorn Will Wet His Whistle

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 2, 2008

After the Washington Redskins introduced their top draft picks in news conferences earlier this week, Coach Jim Zorn shifted his focus to minicamp, which begins today at Redskins Park. Zorn said he hoped to accomplish a lot in his first opportunity to work with the entire team, and there was one big item atop his to-do list.

"When I say something to them about who I am and the kind of person I am, I want them to see that that's the way it is," Zorn said. "The beauty of a football team is that a football team is a family, and if my words don't match up to my actions when it comes to this football team, then this football team is going to be worth nothing when it comes to me. They will not have anything to do with me, so that trust is very important."

Formerly the Seattle Seahawks' quarterbacks coach, Zorn had never been a head coach or offensive coordinator in the NFL before the Redskins hired him to run the offense on Jan. 25. He was promoted to head coach on Feb. 9, making a huge jump after owner Daniel Snyder rejected other candidates to replace Joe Gibbs, who retired after last season.

Zorn, 54, is the team's sixth head coach under Snyder. Since replacing Gibbs, Zorn has spent most of his time in meetings at the team's training complex with Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations. They have been discussing the team's needs and preparing for free agency and last weekend's draft, in which the Redskins selected wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and pass-catching tight end Fred Davis with their three second-round picks.

With his abbreviated offensive playbook for the minicamp completed, Zorn and his top lieutenants, assistant head coach-running backs Stump Mitchell and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith, will begin to install Zorn's offense during five full-squad practices, which are closed to the public, in the three-day session that ends Sunday. The Redskins will have workouts on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and again starting in early June.

Under league rules, each team can have one mandatory minicamp and 14 official workouts, known as organized training activities, or OTAs. Zorn has 11 OTAs scheduled.

Teams with new head coaches can have two additional voluntary minicamps for veterans. With the Redskins scheduled to open the exhibition season against the Indianapolis Colts in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 3 in Canton, Ohio, they are preparing to begin training camp early, probably on July 19 or 20. Zorn said he decided to only have one minicamp for veterans and rookies because training camp, which started on July 27 last year, would begin earlier than usual.

"We want to see, initially, who are the guys that are fast learners, who are the guys who are going to jump right in, be a part of this program and feel most comfortable," Zorn said. "We're going to find out how well we work as a staff, both how we communicate on the field as an offense, how we communicate on the field as a defense and then working together."

The pass-oriented offense of former play-caller Al Saunders was predicated on timing and rhythm. In Saunders's system, quarterbacks throw to spots before receivers complete their routes, and receivers, in theory, are supposed to make big gains after catching balls in stride.

Although timing is a component of Zorn's offense as well, "everything we do in it is a quicker reaction," said quarterback Jason Campbell, who worked on his passing mechanics with Zorn and quarterbacks coach Chris Meidt during the team's voluntary offseason workout program that began March 17.

"Coach Zorn's whole thing is about playing faster," Campbell said. "He always says, 'Do it faster,' but you also have to play in control. We really didn't get into a lot of the offense [in voluntary workouts], so everybody is kind of looking forward to the minicamp to get started."

Said wide receiver Antwaan Randle El: "You definitely want to get your hands on that playbook. I know I do."

To make the transition easier for players, Zorn said he made few changes in the running game, retaining many of the plays and the terminology the Redskins used the last four seasons under Gibbs, though there will be a few new wrinkles, too. In his previous position as Seattle's running backs coach, Mitchell, who is well versed in the offensive scheme Zorn is implementing, was heavily involved in diagramming running plays, and he will play a major role in that area with the Redskins, Zorn said.

Since shortly after they were hired in mid-February, Smith, previously an assistant head coach-running backs with the Tennessee Titans, and Mitchell have assisted Zorn in compiling the shortened playbook that offensive players will receive for the first time today. Concerned about overloading the players with too much information, Zorn relied on Smith and Mitchell to find the right balance.

"It's a challenge not to put too much in, but it's also a challenge not to put enough in," Mitchell said. "We want these guys to comprehend everything we do, but we don't want them to be bored with what we're doing. We want to challenge these guys to be students of the game.

"We want them to have to look in that playbook. We don't want them to leave it in their lockers and say, 'This is too easy.' After the first day, we'll see how things go, but we'll have that right mixture."

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