Zorn Says Redskins Will Make Changes, but Not an Overhaul, in Offseason

An unrestricted look at Jason Reid's lighter moments in 2008. Editor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A day after the Washington Redskins finished their season with another frustrating defeat, Coach Jim Zorn shifted his focus toward the future in stressing the need for significant improvement from everyone on the team.

"I want to coach a team that is a playoff team, not just a team that gets to the playoffs. Do you see what I mean?" Zorn said yesterday at Redskins Park. "I want these guys to be perennial. I don't want it to be a question of, 'Gosh, are we going to make it?' I just want us to say, 'Where are we going to be seeded?' But we've got a lot of work to do to get to that point."

Washington squandered a 10-point halftime lead in a 27-24 loss to San Francisco on Sunday, completing a 2-6 slide in the second half of its schedule. Last in the NFC East despite their surprising 6-2 start, the Redskins (8-8), who were eliminated from postseason contention with one week remaining in the regular season, began the self-evaluation process yesterday, Zorn said, examining what could be done better in an effort to become a perennial playoff participant as soon as possible.

Although changes are likely, Zorn does not expect major roster turnover and plans for the coaching staff to stay intact. He strongly supported quarterback Jason Campbell, who struggled after the midpoint of Washington's schedule but showed enough progress to enter training camp as the starter in 2009. "He did that for sure," Zorn said.

Zorn also emphatically dismissed suggestions he wore too many hats as head coach, play-caller and, essentially, quarterbacks coach.

Determined to succeed after a poor ending to his first season in Washington, Zorn has remained confident in his ability to lead the Redskins.

"You can easily divide our season up into two seasons, the first half and the second half," Zorn said. "I like to divide it up still into those quarters, and look at that third quarter and see what happened to us there. We fell down on several of these games that we felt like we had a great opportunity to win and didn't."

The offense played a key role in the late-season collapse. Washington scored 13 points or less in six of its final eight games. With an average of 16.6 points per game for the season, the Redskins ranked 28th in the league in scoring, producing three fewer total points -- 268 to 265 -- than winless Detroit.

Over the final half of their schedule, the Redskins produced 12.5 points per game. Washington gave up an average of only 288.8 yards per game, finishing fourth in the league, but struggled in the fourth quarters of losses to Dallas, Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Francisco in the last two months.

Too often, opponents made timely plays to extend possessions. Washington tied for 28th in the league with 24 sacks, and the failure of the defensive line to apply consistent pressure on quarterbacks was a big problem throughout the season.

Growing pains were expected on offense in the first year of the transition to Zorn's version of the West Coast offense, which features many three- and four-receiver sets. But the inability of the players to execute consistently in the spread scheme has prompted Zorn and his offensive assistants to "look at our schemes," he said. "I'm not coming up with a whole new scheme on offense because we didn't score points. I'm talking about looking at our schemes, building on our strengths and trying to improve or close the gaps on our weaknesses.

"As we evaluate our schemes and evaluate our players, that's where it's all going to take place. We're not going to make wholesale changes. My charge to all of our players is to get better. Even the guys that have been around for a lot of years, they can improve."

That was the crux of Zorn's message to players in Washington's final team meeting yesterday at the complex. Emphasizing the importance of taking a professional approach as everyone strives for improvement this offseason, Zorn for the first time addressed the team while wearing business attire instead of Redskins sweats and running sneakers. Owner Daniel Snyder contributed a burgundy-and-gold tie and cuff links with the Redskins' logo for Zorn's presentation.

"It's not like I'm going to be in this every day," Zorn said. "When I addressed our players, I wanted to address them in such a way that it had some purpose to it. What I really wanted to do was sort of set the stage."

Players are scheduled to come back March 16 for the start of the voluntary workout program, though some will receive permission to train on their own. Zorn plans to meet with coaches again today and tomorrow, and then the staff will be off for 10 days. In the coming weeks, Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, will lead the coaches, player-personnel officials and scouts in developing an offseason strategy for free agency and the draft.

During the last few weeks, some veterans privately speculated management might bring in many new players next season. Campbell yesterday said he was prepared for potentially "shocking" changes, though Zorn said nothing would be decided until the organization devised its plan.

"We're not just going to go ahead and say we're going to replace 10 or 15 guys," Zorn said. "Things do change, and every year there are new players, and every year players happen to move around a little bit. They all won't come right at one fell swoop, so it will kind of weave its way as it goes along."

Campbell is among the players around whom Zorn would prefer to build. The fourth-year quarterback became a target of fans on sports-talk radio and Internet message boards as he experienced a significant drop in production in the second half, but Campbell has gotten better, Zorn said.

"His footwork was poor when I got here. It got a lot better," Zorn said. "It's going to get even better in this offseason because there's things I'm going to ask him to work on. . . . When he plants that foot, coming forward and letting the ball go, I want to improve that. We'll work on drills that enhance that."

The coaching staff also should continue to grow in 2009, Zorn said. "We can maintain our group," he said. "We're going to look at ways we can improve ourselves."

Part of that process apparently does not include Zorn divesting himself of any of his duties.

"I didn't ever feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of being the head football coach here," Zorn said. "My hope is that I'm going to be strong, stronger, in the overall managing of the total team. Even getting stronger and stronger as a head coach.

"But coaching quarterbacks, I've got a great assistant in Chris Meidt, and he takes on a tremendous amount of responsibility, but I'm still going to be involved with the QBs. The play-calling? I kind of like that."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company