|Jason Campbell is picking up Jim Zorn's West Coast offense.|
ASHBURN, Va. -- Well, 11 guys were on the field every play, Jim Zorn said. His team committed four penalties for 30 yards -- no small feat in a first preseason game, never mind the first game for a first-time head coach.
So, the Redskins' new coach looked relaxed, yet focused after this Tuesday morning practice, just a couple of days after his Redskins coaching debut in a 30-16 victory over the Colts in the Hall of Fame Game. Calm, yet occupied. Pleased, but far from satisfied.
And the way he worked his team reflected all of that.
"We had good energy in the game and we've continued with that energy," Zorn said. "We're adjusting here, learning, coaches along with the players. There are certain things in the West Coast offense where every day an assistant coach will say, 'Hey, now I understand why you installed this particular thing this way. It makes sense now.' Before that, he was probably wondering what the heck I was doing. I know I did that when I learned the system from Mike Holmgren."
Zorn wants to keep it simple. Yet, he wants to be creative, insert "attachments" to the West Coast offense, all the while looking all of his players in the eye and telling them the truth. Say what he means. Mean what he says.
He said he has not had to offer a lot of barking to get his messages across. Not yet.
Cornerback Fred Smoot explained: "He is very Joe Gibbs-like in that he likes things done the right way. But coach Gibbs used a fear factor in his coaching. He was granddaddy-like in the way he worked. Coach Zorn is more interested in tempo. He is a little more vocal than coach Gibbs. A little more involved. We're growing together."
"Comfort zone" is the way quarterback Jason Campbell described it.
No one needs to have that kind of relationship with his head coach more than Campbell.
He is the key coach on the field in Zorn's offense.
Campbell is in his third system in four seasons. He looked -- in the preseason opener and in practices here -- on track to master this Zorn offense. Everyone here looks for more when Buffalo travels to play Washington on Saturday night in more preseason fare.
"I've learned a lot of football from the time I came here until now, what it takes in the NFL to persevere," Campbell said. "I think this could be a big payoff year for me and for us. Last year in the offense I was to throw intermediate passing routes and take some shots deep. Before that, I was not trusted much with no-huddle and my own play-calling, but that changed at the end of last year before I got hurt. I've got a lot of trust and options in this offense. It's exciting."
Campbell is exuding that in practices.
He has an extra bounce in his step. He is being asked to take longer strides and deeper drops and give his receivers more time to work free. He is being asked to deliver the ball with fire and with accuracy. Thus far, all elements are there.
"I've learned in this league," said Redskins safety LaRon Landry, "that if you make a mistake you better correct it on the next play. In college, you corrected mistakes at halftime. Here, and especially at quarterback, that is not a luxury you have. I see Jason getting that. He can be very good this year. We all can. And if we don't reach our goals, it will be all of our fault. It's all a mindset. The talent is there. We've got a special quarterback."
A quarterback in a new system with new nuances.
An entire offense that is adjusting, evolving, learning to complement each other in this new offense.
"It's probably the No. 1 key for us, how we familiarize ourselves as a team with this offense and how quickly we can effectively execute it," Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins general manager, said. "There are a lot of quick decisions across the board that have to be made in this offense and it is predicated on making yards after the catch."
The Redskins know that shifty receivers Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El can do that. The Redskins drafted promising receivers Devin Thomas from Michigan State and Malcolm Kelly from Oklahoma to do it as well.
Thomas has been nursing a hamstring injury. Kelly just had his knee scoped and will miss a couple of weeks.
Last season, Campbell saw the right side of his offensive line go down to injury in the first game. Then Moss got hurt. Then Randle-El. Then there was Sean Taylor's murder. Then Campbell missed the final three games of the regular season and the playoffs due to a knee injury.
"That's how it went, bam, bam, bam," Campbell said. "We're looking for a little more good fortune health-wise, especially with our receivers. In a quick passing game where you are relying on receivers to make big plays after the catch, you have to have those receivers. I'm counting on that. If we get it, this offense will make a run. This team will make a run. I see an exciting season ahead."
He sees a training camp and preseason that he hopes builds practices that lead ever closer to perfection.
During practices here, Zorn is not asking his players to be robots. But he wants the routes run exactly, the passes thrown on the mark, the fundamentals of this West Coast offense executed.
Smoot said there is something worthwhile about execution and teamwork.
"The Giants just won the Super Bowl as a team," Smoot said. "New England, to me, was the team with the best players. But the best team won. The team that executed won. Coaches have been preaching that for years. Players saw it for themselves this time. We did. We took notice. We got it. I think it's showing in this camp."