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Peers say Lewis could bring spark to Redskins' offense

Sherman Lewis successfully called plays, a former Packers tight end said.
Sherman Lewis successfully called plays, a former Packers tight end said. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)

Both Reid and McCarthy said that even though Lewis has been around the Redskins for just 2 1/2 weeks and has had limited time to study the playbook, film and dissect players' respective skills, they see no reason he couldn't step right in and be a successful play-caller Monday night when the Redskins play host to the Eagles.

While conventional thinking suggests Lewis's extensive time running West Coast systems gives him a head start in understanding Zorn's playbook, it was Lewis himself who pointed out the many variations and wrinkles that have evolved since Walsh first put chalk on the blackboard.

"They call it the West Coast offense, but I've coached in San Francisco's West Coast, Green Bay's West Coast, Minnesota's West Coast, Detroit's West Coast. They're all a little different," Lewis said earlier this month on his first day on the job. "I've just got to come in here, get a feel for what Jim's teaching. It won't be the same West Coast.

"It evolves, everybody puts their little touch to it. But basically the foundation of the offense stays the same. I know what routes should look like, I know when routes are run right, I know when running backs are hitting the hole. I know the basic things it takes to be successful in this offense."

Different pieces

The Redskins' personnel doesn't match what Lewis had in the past. There's no Favre, Jerry Rice or Randy Moss on the roster. Lewis would prefer a big wide receiver who can make plays and stretch the field. He'd prefer a speedy tailback coming out of the backfield, and a quarterback who efficiently goes through his progressions as he drops back.

But, Lewis points out, despite Zorn's wrinkles and the team's personnel, "the way you teach routes hasn't changed. The deep-over is still the deep-over. The dagger route is still the dagger. The shadow cross, the drive route -- they call it different things, but it's still the same route. I've taught it for years."

Routes, in fact, are Lewis's specialty. He's not as familiar with pass-protection schemes, blitz pickup packages and doesn't consider the running game his area of expertise. His strength has always been working with receivers.

"He'll definitely help settle down Jason [Campbell], and he'll hold those receivers accountable," said former Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman. "I've watched their games, and a lot of times you see receivers running extra routes to try to get open. That's not what the West Coast is all about. The offense is predicated on guys just running to their spot and giving the quarterback a chance to go through his progressions and make a play. You're supposed to run to a spot and sit in your spot. That's it."

Most of the Redskins' offensive weapons predate Zorn's arrival and the installation of the West Coast offense.

"The only problem that I could foresee with Sherm is, with him, that's what you have to run -- the West Coast," said Cris Carter, the former Vikings wide receiver who played for two years under Lewis and now serves as an analyst for ESPN. "You can't be deviating. But if that's what you want and that's what your guys are best suited for -- a West Coast system -- he can help you with that because he knows it as well as anyone, no doubt."

While the midseason hiring in Washington inspired jokes across the league -- in his only meeting with reporters, Lewis revealed he had to cancel a bingo appointment at a senior citizen center when he accepted the job -- no one familiar with Lewis's coaching history laughs at the knowledge he brings to the job. Similarly, the tall task in front of him, calling plays less than three weeks after arriving in town, is serious business.

Speaking about the challenge he faced, Lewis offered a slight smile on Day One of his new job: "It's gonna be a little longer than bingo."

Staff writers Jason Reid and Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.

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