Enemies within at Redskins Park between team, management

Second-year Coach Jim Zorn said he is
Second-year Coach Jim Zorn said he is "uncomfortable" with the arrangement in which Sherman Lewis calls the plays for the Redskins. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Sally Jenkins
Thursday, October 29, 2009

There are games within games being played at Redskins Park. Forget their NFL rivals, the Redskins apparently have enough opponents inside their own building, where it seems everyone is choosing up sides.

The team and its own management have become adversaries. That was the clear implication this week when Vinny Cerrato, the executive vice president of football operations, asserted that he built a playoff-quality roster. Given that the Redskins are 2-5, we're left with only one possible conclusion: Coach Jim Zorn must have screwed things up. It couldn't possibly be the fault of Cerrato, or the man for whom he serves as a lead suit, owner Daniel Snyder.

On the other side are Zorn and the assistants and players loyal to him, who are fighting to retain some control of the team, and to preserve their reputations against the insinuation they are incompetent. When Zorn stepped up to the podium after the latest loss to the Philadelphia Eagles he went out of his way to say "I stuck my nose" into the play-calling, and he pointedly took credit for the call resulting in their final touchdown.

That statement was borderline insubordinate, because Cerrato personally stripped Zorn of play-calling duties and gave them to his handpicked man, Sherman Lewis. The implication of Zorn's statement was clear, too: Play-calling isn't the problem; the problem is a roster Snyder and Cerrato left so thin and uncompetitive, especially on the offensive line, that coaches are struggling to hold it together with spit and twine.

Zorn replied explicitly to Cerrato's assessment of the roster during a radio interview on ESPN 980 on Wednesday, saying, "I do know this: If we've got a playoff roster, we'll earn the right to be in the playoffs."

This is the central conflict within the Redskins, but there is evidence of other strife, too. There is visible tension between running back Clinton Portis and his blockers, especially fullback Mike Sellers, and the guess here is that there is surely tension between defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, he of the $100 million contract and frequent absences, and some of his teammates after he had the nerve to question their commitment.

"Urgency, heart, 'want-to,' whatever," Haynesworth said after the Philly loss. "I don't know. We're lacking a lot of stuff right now."

He made one valuable observation, however: "If we just keep going our separate ways, then we'll just keep getting slaughtered like we have."

No need to read the implications in that statement. He said it flat-out: The Redskins are going their separate ways.

At this point, the Redskins have a much bigger problem than a 2-5 record. They have a problem even bigger than their undermanned and inexperienced offensive line, and a bigger problem than their foreboding remaining schedule, a sluggers row that includes eight opponents at .500 or better. Their biggest problem is their own lack of solidarity. It threatens to take those other problems and turn them into something far more destructive. There is a sense of potential impending disaster at Redskins Park, a sense that things could slide downhill very quickly, and steeply. If a losing record in the first half to the season becomes a winless second one, we will know the reason why.

Unfortunately, lack of cohesion is nothing new. It's how the Redskins operate. Time after time, management seems to destabilize and demoralize its own players and coaches.

For instance, if the Redskins have a playoff roster, then how come last summer they spent so much time shopping around for a new quarterback, chasing Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez, and in the process devaluing Jason Campbell? The implication was that they deemed Campbell, arguably their most important player, inadequate. Whether Campbell really is or not, they sent a message to his teammates that they had no confidence in him.


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