There may be glitches, but Redskins are committed to new system

By Rick Maese
Monday, October 26, 2009

For the first time in 23 games as head coach of the Washington Redskins, Jim Zorn will not be calling his team's offensive plays, a bold decision management made last week to clear the second-year coach's plate.

"I don't look at that as a positive," Zorn said matter-of-factly about his lighter workload.

In truth, he says it'll be "awkward" to pace the sideline of Monday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field. If all doesn't go smoothly with the team's new and unorthodox play-calling process, it could be awkward to watch as well.

Sherman Lewis, who was hired as offensive consultant Oct. 6 and installed as the play-caller after the loss last week to Kansas City, will watch Monday's game from the coaches' booth, and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith will move to the sideline for the first time since joining the team in February 2008. Using headsets, Lewis will select a play and radio it down to Smith, who will then relay the call to quarterback Jason Campbell on the field.

Although Zorn has been mostly eliminated from the process, he also will hear the Lewis-Smith-Campbell dialogue in his headset. Zorn had initially planned to serve as the relay man but said, "I just don't want any temptation of overriding him when it's necessary."

It's a clunky approach to an important aspect of the game. Redskins coaches say it's not ideal and enter the game knowing there could be problems.

Lewis has had less than three weeks to learn the terminology of Zorn's offense. One wrong word -- just a few seconds -- could spell disaster. And Zorn knows that another voice on the line -- his own -- could delay the entire process.

"When you're a play-caller, you're concentrating. I'm not going to be chiming in, going, 'Oh, my gosh,' " Zorn said. "Or 'Did you really just call that?' or 'Hey, that's a great call, way to go.' I'm just going to keep quiet."

The complicated part is developing a rhythm in selecting plays while working against the clock and dealing with the changing game situations. Lewis will have to be aware of down and distance, available personnel and potential defensive matchups.

"That's play-calling right there," Smith said. "The biggest thing that's got to happen, since it's going from A to B to C, [Lewis is] going to have to have the plays real fast."

Of the potential for delay-of-game penalties, Smith said, "I'll tell you, that's possible."

The clock is ticking

The entire exchange is a race against the clock. League rules require a team's communications system to shut off when 15 seconds remain on the play clock. In an effort to avoid delay-of-game penalties, Campbell might wear a wristband with a limited number of plays written on it so he could call one quickly if problems develop.

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