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Zorn Stirred By Redskins' Early Growth

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The Washington Post's Jason Reid talks about the development of quarterback Jason Campbell and Jim Zorn's transition to head coach.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 11, 2008; Page E01

Quickly growing accustomed to play-calling, Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn was excited last week about his plan for the preseason home opener -- his FedEx Field debut -- against the Buffalo Bills. There were plays Zorn was eager to call if certain situations arose, and Zorn again got what he wanted.

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Several of the plays he liked worked well against Buffalo, Zorn said, contributing to Saturday's 17-14 victory at FedEx Field. The Redskins held on after racing to a 14-3 lead in the second quarter and improved to 2-0.

Washington had no major injuries while continuing to show progress in Zorn's version of the West Coast offense and Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor immediately made an impact in his Redskins debut. Although it is only the preseason, the Redskins are on a good path, Zorn said, and winning is fun regardless of the stakes.

"If there's a chance to win, everybody wants to win on that field," Zorn said during a news conference yesterday at Redskins Park. "That's what we work for, that's what we work for out at practice. We don't work just to kind of go through the motions. I want to practice winning for me as a head coach. It's not like I'm gritting my teeth and punching guys and grabbing guys and shaking guys or anything like that. It's just [that] I like to win and I think every coach does, so every coach is out there to win regardless of who he has on the field."

In his Redskins debut, Zorn led the team to a 30-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 3 in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio. On Saturday night at FedEx, the Redskins welcomed back many key players who did not play in Canton, including Taylor and running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts.

A play called for Betts in the second quarter was among the plays Zorn was especially pleased about. Betts scored on a 12-yard screen pass from backup quarterback Todd Collins that helped Washington take an early 11-point lead.

"I wanted to run a screen down there. We picked one out [and] I was kind of excited about it," Zorn said. "I just felt it was a very good play and it was executed well. They all have to be executed. It would have been a very crummy play had we not executed well.

"When we look at the video and you're executing, everybody's executing, the plays have a real good chance of being successful. It's when you're not executing that disaster happens. For the most part, we are executing what we're setting out to do."

Having Taylor get in some work was high on the Redskins' to-do list. Taylor, acquired from the Miami Dolphins on the first day of training camp, has been brought along slowly while he learns Washington's system.

But Zorn was ready to see Taylor in a game, albeit briefly, and defensive coordinator Greg Blache experimented with having Taylor and defensive end Andre Carter play each side in their two series. Taylor is expected to start at left end and opened the game on that side, but Carter was on the left side on Buffalo's second possession.

The Bills' first-team offensive line appeared concerned about the presence of Taylor -- the league's 2006 defensive player of the year -- and was called for two false-start penalties. "If you just stay on one side [with Taylor], you have a plan," Zorn said of Washington's opponents. "You get your back going that way all day to help chip [block]. You help the tackle out that has to block him all day. You slide the line that way. You can make plans.

"Then all of a sudden, you flip it. Now, you have to have your quarterback watching where the defensive end lines up as well. If they were trying to go to Jason Taylor, now the [quarterback] might have to change the protection. We have got two good ends. It's very difficult, whichever side they're on, [and] I'm not sure that a team is going to be able to play that [way] just because they're both so effective. I'd say, 'Okay, Andre Carter and Jason Taylor healthy. What are we going to do about it?' "

Zorn, in his first season as a primary play-caller in the NFL, believes that his early success in the role "helps the confidence of the team" in him individually and the coaching staff overall, he said. "There were a couple of plays during the week that I said, 'When I get here, I'm calling this play and it's going to be successful when I call it,' and it sort of happened, it did, it happened," Zorn said. "And it wasn't anything that we were looking at on video [and identified a weakness in Buffalo's defense]. It was just that if we execute this play, [then] this could be a big play for us. A couple of those happened."

Of course, the purpose of the preseason is to prepare for the regular season, Zorn acknowledged. Despite his competitive nature, the Redskins "did get accomplished what we wanted to as far as seeing the players [in the first two games]," Zorn said. "We executed our game plan. I didn't come up with new plays because I wanted to be competitive to win. I just used the sheet that we went into the game with. We did get to call and see a lot of the things that we wanted to find out."

In four series combined the first two games, starting quarterback Jason Campbell has completed 80 percent of his passes with one touchdown and no interceptions. He has a 125.6 passer rating and "again played consistently" against Buffalo, Zorn said. "The thing that I really was impressed with Jason last night [was that] he had two pocket scrambles. He was in the pocket, scrambled in the pocket and bought time, then drilled the ball very accurately. Those are things I'm looking for. We've been drilling those things. He made a couple of plays that were big-league plays that way."

Collins has not been as sharp as Campbell in practice or games. Against Buffalo, Collins made a poor decision in the second quarter that led to an interception. Two plays later, Buffalo scored its only touchdown.

"The pick, Todd would love to have that back," Zorn said. "There was a guy open in front he should have hit or turn that down all together and go elsewhere. We were all disappointed in that. It really created an opportunity for them to get back in the game and that put our defense in our real bind. We have to improve.

"To me, it wasn't the throw as much as the decision to throw that created that problem because there was a lot of clutter there. The situation, he'll see [it]. And the thing that I'm going to go over with him it's first and 10. We didn't even need it."


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