Collins Struggling to Catch the Rhythm of New Offense

By Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Re-signing backup quarterback Todd Collins was the Washington Redskins' main goal in free agency this offseason. Coach Jim Zorn traveled to Quincy, Mass., the day before free agents could sign to re-recruit Collins, eating lunch in the player's home town and reiterating the Redskins' interest in him.

Collins -- who played a key role in the team's regular season-ending four-game winning streak -- returned to the Redskins for a three-year, $9 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus. For the first time in his career, Collins, primarily a backup in his first 13 seasons in the NFL, had financial security, and Washington retained the quarterback it wanted to play behind developing starter Jason Campbell.

Although Collins played well down the stretch when Campbell was injured last season, some Redskins observers wondered how he would fare in a new offense for the first time in nine seasons. So far in training camp, Collins is off to slow start, he said.

"I'm just trying to get on the same page with this offense," Collins said after practice yesterday at Redskins Park. "It's different. It's got a different rhythm. That's what training camp is for -- to get acclimated."

For the previous eight seasons (six with the Kansas City Chiefs, two with Washington), Collins worked in the offense of former Redskins play-caller Al Saunders, who was forced out in the staff shakeup after former coach Joe Gibbs retired.

Saunders, who now directs the St. Louis Rams' offense, ran a pass-oriented scheme that was predicated on timing and rhythm, and numbers were used in play-calling. Timing is a component of Zorn's version of the West Coast offense as well, but the pace is much quicker than that of Saunders's and words are used instead of numbers.

Collins has appeared frustrated throughout camp. He has struggled to connect with receivers downfield and often seems to go through his progressions slowly as if he is unsure about the receivers' routes. Zorn has pushed Campbell publicly and privately to raise his level of play, saying he wants Campbell to continue to work on his mechanics and play faster, but he seems to have taken a gentler approach with Collins.

"Todd's got a little bit different factor to deal with," Zorn said of Collins's struggles to this point. "He's also dealing with the backup offensive line against our first defense, more often than any of the other quarterbacks, so that's one of the things.

"Secondly, we've got younger guys in with him and they're all learning. The thing that I love about Todd is he's very competitive. He wants to do it right. He knows what's he's doing. Sometimes things they don't happen for him down the field."

But Collins should show significant improvement in the offense "as he gets into the game with some of the more experienced players," Zorn said. "I see him as doing his job. I don't see him having bad days as much as just having frustration for lack of execution down the field."

Surgery for Blades

Second-year linebacker H.B. Blades will have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee today and is expected to be out at least three weeks, a team spokesman said. Blades, a key contributor on special teams throughout last season, played an important role in the team's late run to the playoffs last season, filling in well at times after weak-side linebacker Rocky McIntosh had a season-ending knee injury.

Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin is back with the first-team defense after sitting out the last few days because of a minor knee injury. . . . Defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery and linebacker Rian Wallace were scheduled to have hand surgery yesterday and will be out at least two weeks.

Communication Problems

Middle linebacker London Fletcher will be the Redskins' defensive player designated to have a speaker in his helmet, but defensive coordinator Greg Blache needs more practice with the new system.

"It's a sore subject," said Blache, who worked with the headset system for the first time in Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage. "Actually, I went back to my hand signals just because [when] I was pressing the button, I was talking too soon and the linebackers were only getting the second half of the call.

"It's a great system. It's equitable. It allows both sides of the ball to have an opportunity to communicate without worrying about other people stealing your signals."

A Birthday Bash

As Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels sat at a podium in front of cameras and microphones, fellow offensive linemen Stephon Heyer, Randy Thomas, Casey Rabach and Jon Jansen brought out a cake with candles to celebrate Samuels's 31st birthday. Thomas later sneaked back outside as Samuels was still fielding questions, maneuvered through reporters and hit his friend in the face with the cake.

"Ah, man, you know I'm getting you for that," Samuels shouted at Thomas as he chased him toward the locker room with cake falling off his head. "Our truce is over."

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