Offense Is Told to Start Again
First Team Will Play in Preseason Finale Despite Risk of Injury

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Things were not going well. The thought was reinforced for Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell every time a Carolina Panthers defensive lineman flung him to the ground Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.

The preseason dress rehearsal the Redskins staged for their season opener, the first half of which the offensive and defensive starters planned to make a positive statement about their progress since the beginning of training camp under new coach Jim Zorn, went awry quickly and ended in an embarrassing 47-3 loss. And when the rout was completed, Campbell made another observation.

"I just said: 'No. We can't go out like that,' " Campbell said. "We know what we're capable of as an offense, as a team, and we can't start the season like that. We [have to] go back to work."

Zorn agreed. Concerned that Washington's offensive starters played so poorly in the first half against the Panthers, he has made a risky decision to have the group play again tomorrow -- for at least one series but probably no more than two -- in the final preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at FedEx Field. The defensive starters will not play, Zorn said Monday.

Although he acknowledged there is the potential for injury in another meaningless preseason game, Zorn believes that having his top offensive performers end the preseason on such a down note could be an even a bigger gamble. The Redskins support his decision, many veterans said, particularly because Washington kicks off the NFL's regular season Sept. 4 in a nationally televised game against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium.

"It only makes sense" to have the starters play again, wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "It makes sense to get back out there, get it tuned up, cranked up and get it fixed. You just don't want to have that as your last impression going into your season. Really, your last impression shouldn't be that."

"Manhandled" was the word many coaches and players used to describe the performance of the first-team offense. "One guy said [we ate] humble pie. You know? He was right," offensive coordinator Sherman Smith said. "We thought we were better than what we are and we found out. Now, I don't think we're as bad as we played, and I don't think they're as good as they played. But they played with a little more purpose than we did."

Zorn was highly critical of the offensive line. Campbell was under duress from the outset and throughout the only preseason game in which the entire first-team offense played the whole first half. Although the Panthers' secondary was sharp in man-to-man coverage, contributing to Washington's ineffective passing game, the veteran offensive line "played awful," Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said, losing many one-on-one matchups.

Carolina's defensive line applied significant pressure without the help of blitzes. The Panthers' defensive tackles collapsed the pocket in the middle and Samuels and right tackle Jon Jansen struggled against edge rushers.

During one stretch spanning two drives in the first quarter, Campbell was sacked three times in six plays. Defensive end Julius Peppers overwhelmed Samuels on the third sack, pushing him into Campbell, forcing a fumble and recovering the ball.

"Obviously, we have to make some adjustments," left guard Pete Kendall said. "First and foremost, when you talk about assessment of everything, it primarily lies with each of us as individuals. We need to play better. That being said, there are things that we can do, communications we can make between each other, or adjustments we can make as an offense, to put ourselves in schemes that give us a better chance.

"All those things have been evaluated and the corrections are being made. We go forward from there. But the primary thing is that you have to do your job when you're asked to do your job. Hopefully, we'll be quicker to correct our techniques. Hopefully, we'll be quicker to get to any adjustments from a scheme perspective or a technique perspective that's going to help us. But again, you have to do your job."

Washington's first-team defense also had a nightmarish performance. Carolina rushed for 228 yards -- including 185 in taking a 34-0 halftime lead -- and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. The Panthers scored touchdowns of at least 20 yards on three consecutive possessions to close the first half and Redskins defensive backs were beaten often in coverage.

Washington's defensive starters did not match Carolina's intensity "and they were more physical than us," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "Since I've been here, I can say that was the first time that a team brought it physically more than we did. That's just not something that happens to us."

Despite those problems, Zorn decided not to have the first-team defense play against Jacksonville. The group played without strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington (hip) and free safety LaRon Landry (hamstring). The defense's solid play in the first three games and the potential for exposure to injury ("I'm definitely aware of it," Zorn said) factored into Zorn's decision to have that group sit out tomorrow.

Also, although defensive coordinator Greg Blache has put his stamp on the scheme the Redskins used under Gregg Williams -- who returns to FedEx Field tomorrow as Jacksonville's top defensive coach for the first time since being forced out in the coaching staff shakeup after last season -- there is not much new to test. On offense, however, Zorn has installed his version of a West Coast scheme and the offensive line also struggled to protect Campbell in a 13-10 victory over the New York Jets on Aug. 16.

"If it's a five-play drive, five consecutive plays and then we end up having to punt, I don't know if I'd bring 'em back out," Zorn said. "Now, three and out, I don't know about that. If that were to happen, we may have to" have the starters in for at least another series.

Even top running back Clinton Ports, whose disdain for the preseason is no secret, believes the first-team offense has something to prove.

"Coach decided we need to be out there, so we need to be out there," he said. I'm "sure none of the guys really want to go into the season with that taste in they mouth. Even though it really don't count, I'm sure guys feel like they want to come out and go into the season on a positive" note.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company