By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 20, 2008
On the last day of a recent charity golf event in Seattle, a man who had an anecdote to share about Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn approached quarterback Jason Campbell as he prepared to tee off. Campbell politely interrupted the enthusiastic man after only a few words because others had told him similar stories often that weekend.
Although Campbell was aware that Zorn, a former Seahawks player and coach, was among Seattle's most popular sports figures, he said he did not realize how much Zorn is respected in the community. After the experience on his trip, and having worked with Zorn throughout the offseason, Campbell is convinced that Zorn is the right person to get the most out of him and the Redskins this season.
"My whole time up in Seattle . . . it was something I really didn't expect," Campbell said. "It's just crazy how much respect Coach Zorn has up there. Everywhere I went, people would come up to me, introduce themselves and tell me what a great coach he is, what a great guy he is, how smart he is and how intense he is. And some people said they weren't big football fans, but they've heard he's a good man and just wanted to pass it along. When you hear that from so many people, especially people you've never met before, after you already feel good about a situation, it just makes you really look forward to what we're about to try to do together."
The Redskins today begin training camp practice under Zorn, formerly the Seahawks' quarterbacks coach, who had never been an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator before Washington hired him to run the offense on Jan. 25. He was promoted to head coach Feb. 9, making a huge jump after owner Daniel Snyder rejected the other candidates to replace the retiring Joe Gibbs. Campbell, beginning his fourth season, hopes to take a big step under Zorn, who also will be the Redskins' primary quarterbacks coach and play-caller. He also is confident that the offense will thrive in Zorn's West Coast scheme.
Campbell said he has never been more excited to begin two-a-day practices and that he expects big things from his partnership with Zorn.
"I'm definitely looking forward to this," Campbell said. "I'm looking forward to working with him during the season and achieving our goals as a team. I always look forward to the season, but this season is a little different. We have a new head coach, some new assistants and a new offense, but our fans always set high expectations for us and we always have high expectations for ourselves, which is the way it should be. With the amount of talent we have, all we have to do as players is follow his lead. What we do, what we accomplish, is going to be based on how well we come together behind him."
Campbell and Zorn have been on the field and in the film room together (offensive assistant Chris Meidt also spends much of his time with Campbell and Washington's other quarterbacks) since March, getting to know each other in the process. Campbell would not be surprised if Zorn is "a little bit nervous" as camp begins "because whenever it's your first time doing something, it's natural to be a little bit nervous. But I also know this: He won't be scared. He'll have the full reins of the team. He's very competitive, very confident, and guys see that. I think guys respect him a lot. Guys are going to follow him and play hard for him. I know because we've had a chance to see what he's like on the field."
Under league rules, each team is allowed one mandatory minicamp and 14 official workouts, known as organized training activities. Zorn scheduled 11 team activity sessions. Teams with new head coaches are allowed two additional voluntary minicamps for veterans.
The Redskins begin training camp early because they are scheduled to open the exhibition season against the Indianapolis Colts in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 3 in Canton, Ohio, and will play five exhibition games. Because of that, Zorn decided to have only one minicamp for veterans and rookies (May 2-4). Scheduling an additional minicamp may have helped an offense that is in transition.
"We got a lot accomplished during OTAs and minicamp," Campbell said. "Guys responded real well, picking up things, and we made a lot progress technique-wise. Now, what's going to be critical for us is putting it all together in games. With a new offense, you can rep against your defense all the time, but it's hard to get a good idea of your progress against your defense.
"Your defense is going to see a lot of the same things over and over again in practice, so they sort of jump certain routes, jump certain things, so then it's not a realistic look at where you're at as an offense. When you get in a game, you're facing someone new who hasn't been seeing everything you're doing on a day-to-day basis. The defense doesn't know what to expect."
Gibbs unveiled only small portions of his offense during exhibition games, but Campbell expects Zorn to show a lot in the preseason. "He really believes in what he's doing and he's going to be aggressive," Campbell said. "As a player, you like that."
Campbell quickly assumed a leadership role when Zorn began to install his offense in February. Campbell has received high marks from Zorn and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith for his preparation and performance. Campbell, fully recovered from the dislocated left kneecap that cut short his 2007 season, is so confident in his standing on the team and the organization's belief in him that he "just laughed about" recent news reports that the Redskins were in trade talks for retired Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl quarterback Brett Favre (the Redskins have no interest in Favre, league sources familiar with the team's plans said).
"When you hear something like that, you know it's just [the news media] trying to stir up stuff and talk about it because it sells," Campbell said. "I didn't even entertain it."
Favre and Campbell grew up about 100 miles apart in rural Mississippi. When Campbell was a high school senior, he met the future Hall of Fame quarterback. Campbell respects Favre's accomplishments and his ability "but that [Washington trading for Favre] is something I'm definitely not worried about."
"The only thing I don't want to happen is for his legacy to get messed up through all of this. He has had such a tremendous career. His name is all over the record book. The guy is a fierce competitor. But at the same time, Brett is at the end of his career. I'm still at the beginning of my career. I am who I am. I'm working every day to become an elite quarterback for this team and that's all that's on my mind."
Campbell has had to learn three new offenses in his pro career, and this season he will have more responsibility for making proper offensive line protection calls. He hopes that Zorn's offense is the last he will have to learn for a while. "You look at a lot of the great offenses in the NFL, a lot of the great teams, and you see that stability every year," he said. "They're not learning new things every year, they're just adding on to what they already know.
"That's what I hope to have now. I hope that we have that stability. I hope that we can work together for the long term. I would love to see us both have success together for a long period of time. Not just for me and for him, but for the team and for the organization. To have that same guy leading us, leading our offense, each and every year is what you have to have. Super Bowls are not won overnight, it takes time to win them, and you have to build it together. Hopefully, that's what we're starting on now."