Cerrato Says Zorn Will Return as Redskins Coach in 2009

Vinny Cerrato, left, the Redskins' executive vice president of football operations, recommended that owner Daniel Snyder, middle, hire Jim Zorn as coach.
Vinny Cerrato, left, the Redskins' executive vice president of football operations, recommended that owner Daniel Snyder, middle, hire Jim Zorn as coach. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A day after the Washington Redskins were eliminated from playoff contention, Vinny Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations, reiterated yesterday that first-year head coach Jim Zorn will return next season.

"Yeah," Cerrato said when asked if Zorn would lead the Redskins in the 2009 season. During an interview at his office at Redskins Park, Cerrato offered general observations about the state of the team as Washington (8-7) prepares to complete its season Sunday at San Francisco, and provided a more detailed public evaluation of Zorn, quarterback Jason Campbell and the 2008 draft class than he has previously this season.

Zorn, who is also Washington's play-caller, has come under scrutiny as the offense struggled during a three-game losing streak and 1-5 stretch that ended with Sunday's 10-3 victory over Philadelphia. But Cerrato said replacing Zorn, who has two more guaranteed seasons remaining on his contract, "has never been discussed, period."

Speaking on his radio program on ESPN 980 last week, Cerrato said Zorn's status had not been discussed in the Redskins' front office. He took things a step further yesterday, describing a question about Zorn's standing as "crazy. Why wouldn't he be back?"

Cerrato said he is confident Zorn, whom he strongly recommended to team owner Daniel Snyder for the Redskins' head coaching vacancy last winter, is "learning and he's improving. Just how rookie players learn and improve, same type of steps. He's making progress."

After a 6-2 start, the Redskins' performance sagged during the second half of the season and they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday. The defense has given up an average of 284.1 yards per game, ranking fourth in the NFL, but the offense has not been productive, especially since the midpoint of the schedule. Of the 32 NFL teams, only Cleveland, Oakland, St. Louis and Cincinnati have scored fewer points than Washington's total of 241.

Growing pains were inevitable this season as Zorn began to install his version of the West Coast offense that features many three- and four-receiver formations. "Every team in the National Football League has weaknesses," Cerrato said. "Once a season is over, you get together, and this is what we'll do. We'll get together as coaches, scouts [and] administration, we'll put down our strengths, weaknesses and where we need to improve. I think that's a process that every team goes through.

"Even if you're a Super Bowl-contending team, even if you're the Super Bowl champions, there are areas you need to improve," Cerrato continued. "Everybody is going to look to improve. You're always looking to improve. During the season, you're looking to improve the bottom of your roster. You're always looking to get better. Nobody's perfect. With that said, we will look, evaluate and try to fix as many holes as we can fix. Once the final game is played, we'll evaluate every area and look to see where we need to improve."

The evaluation of Campbell's play is a key part of the process. The fourth-year quarterback, who has worked closely with Zorn since February, performed at the highest level of his career in leading the Redskins during their strong first half. As the offensive line experienced major breakdowns in pass protection later in the season, however, Campbell had a significant drop-off in production.

In each of the last two games, Campbell has passed for fewer than 170 yards. He had only a 65.7 passer rating against Philadelphia -- his third-lowest of the season. Campbell's statistics are not among the league leaders but "I think he's made a lot of progress up to this point," Cerrato said. "Last year, I think he had 13 fumbles [losing eight] in 12 games. He's improved a ton on that.

"Just the way he handles checks and getting us out of bad plays, changing pass protections, he's controlling that at the line of scrimmage. Statistically, and everything he has improved, you see fundamentally how he's improved. To me, he's made great strides up to this point. Is he where he can be? No. He's got room. He's got a high ceiling. Has he gotten there yet? No. He hasn't reached his potential yet. He's still learning, growing and developing."

But Cerrato stopped short of saying he is convinced that Campbell could become a championship-caliber quarterback. "I don't think you can answer that," he said. "How do you know? He's still developing and learning."

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