Redskins' Coach and Quarterback Have an Understanding

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 27, 2009

There is a voice in Jason Campbell's head, and depending on the point he is at in his Sunday, it can be high-pitched and hyper, soothing and calm, reassuring or ranting. "Are you sure? Are you sure? ARE YOU SURE?"

"Some of that stuff I might say . . . it's just idle chatter," Jim Zorn said. But it is, as Zorn put it, "nervousness" only occasionally. Mostly, it is substantive discussion.

Campbell and Zorn, the quarterback and coach of the Washington Redskins, will be linked Sunday by the wireless microphone that allows Zorn to speak directly into Campbell's helmet when the Redskins face the Detroit Lions, losers of 19 straight games, at Ford Field.

More importantly, though, Campbell and Zorn are linked by an inescapable reality: No two men are more attached to the success or failure of the Redskins' sputtering offense, which has scored two touchdowns in two games. So their conversation -- before games, during games, after games -- is constant and crucial, and it shapes their relationship.

"I think you can say too little to a QB, and he'd feel like he's out there alone," Zorn said. "And then you can kind of overstate situations."

For 18 regular season games, the length of their time together, the flow of that chatter -- that relationship -- has developed, and it is still evolving. A week after the Redskins failed to score a touchdown against St. Louis, when Zorn called runs on four consecutive first-down plays inside the 11-yard line and then followed with a halfback pass on one third down, a question arose: Does Zorn, the voice in Campbell's head, trust the man who is hearing his words?

"Yes," Zorn said Friday, and there was a slight pause. There is, the coach said, no need to elaborate. "It really is a one-word answer."

Trust was a popular word last week at Redskins Park, because the offense has struggled since midway through last year. Around the Redskins' locker room, offensive players brought up the concept, unsolicited. In one corner, second-year wide receiver Malcolm Kelly lamented his lack of production inside the opponents' 20-yard line: "I have to give coach the confidence that he can trust me in that situation." In another, veteran fullback Mike Sellers said, "We just have to trust ourselves that we can do it."

And then there is Campbell. He is in his third full year as a starter, and he is still amazed at the amount of scrutiny he faces each week. By now, he has come up with a philosophy. "I don't know if it's a matter of trust or anything," he said, "because as far as me, [if] you play quarterback, you play quarterback."

That is what Zorn and the coaching staff want to hear from Campbell: Keep it simple, inwardly focused. It has been hard, Campbell admits, to shake the upheaval of this offseason, when the Redskins twice tried to trade for quarterbacks to oust the incumbent. All the while, Zorn tried to stand by Campbell, privately and publicly, to retain his trust. The staff watched how the quarterback handled it all.

"I think he's earned the trust," said offensive assistant Chris Meidt, who works closely with the quarterbacks. "I don't think it's just a matter of just time in [the system]. I think it's the work that he's put in, the offseason preparation. That's him. That's all him."

But if the staff trusts him, how does that show in a game? During the week, Zorn spends considerable time selecting plays for a certain game and certain situations. That process involves running them in practice, refining them in the film room, running them again. It ends on Saturday night, when players and coaches review the game plan for the final time. Finally, Sunday arrives, and as Zorn said, "I call it."

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