Key Players Won't Be Put at Risk in Zorn's Debut

Redskins legends Art Monk and Darrell Green, cheered on by a sea of burgundy and gold, are inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 3, 2008

The crowd will range much closer to 20,000 than 90,000, the result will mean almost nothing and most starters will be unavailable for duty or will play roughly a series or two on the high school field.

For Jim Zorn, however, that is of little consequence. The longtime assistant will be coaching his first NFL game -- albeit in the preseason -- and finally unveiling his offensive vision, calling his own plays and implementing his own game plans. Redskins fans may remember tonight's Hall of Fame Game against Indianapolis more for the induction of Washington greats Darrell Green and Art Monk, but Zorn will take the first incremental step in his progression as a head coach.

Zorn, 55, said he realizes this weekend is about much more than his preseason debut and is content to be part of a much larger picture.

"It's an NFL spectacle is what it is," Zorn said of the game in Canton, Ohio. "So there will be a lot of national attention. I think I'll have enough to be concerned about, so I'll be able to concentrate on my responsibilities, and it'll be a fun game for the fans. Even though they're going to see a lot of different people play, I think it will be a fun game to watch. I think it'll be entertaining on television."

The biggest problem for the national audience on NBC may be the lack of any recognizable names on the field for the bulk of the night. The Colts have a bevy of stars either injured or recovering from surgery -- Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders, among others -- while the Redskins had five players undergo surgery in the first week of training camp. As a rule, teams will play their veterans judiciously in the Hall of Fame Game (one of five preseason games for the participating teams rather than the normal four), and never will that be more evident than tonight.

The Redskins will not expose key starters such as running back Clinton Portis, tackle Chris Samuels, linebacker London Fletcher and defensive end Jason Taylor to injury. Cornerback Carlos Rogers, defensive end Erasmus James and linebacker Rocky McIntosh are coming off of major knee surgeries and will not play. Other injured players not slated to participate include top safety LaRon Landry (hamstring), starting defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery (broken hand) and two of the team's top three draft picks (wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly are battling hamstring injuries). A host of players jostling for reserve spots, such as linebacker H.B. Blades, wide receiver Anthony Mix and linebacker Rian Wallace, are out as well.

Those absences create an even greater need to maximize playing time from the other youngsters on the roster, with teams carrying 80 players now and searching for depth. The Redskins had a robust draft class of 10 rookies -- an unusually large haul for the franchise -- and many will be featured tonight for the first time. Offensive lineman Chad Rinehart and quarterback Colt Brennan are among them.

"The younger players we have, they dominated at their positions at the college level, and they have to now learn how to dominate at the pro level," Zorn said. "And there's a learning curve."

The reasons for taking precautionary measures with Washington's established players are multifold. The last time the Redskins played in Canton, Ohio, during Coach Joe Gibbs's first preseason game in his return to the NFL in 2004, starting right tackle Jon Jansen was lost for the season with a torn Achilles' on the opening series.

With such a long training camp, there will be considerable playing opportunities beyond tonight, with the evaluation of those fighting for roster spots of a greater immediate concern.

"Part of it is to not get the starters taxed for a whole game, or risk the injury for a whole game," Zorn said. "But we've got a lot of young guys that we have to look at, and they're going to get a great opportunity."

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