Zorn will bring the Seattle version of the West Coast offense to the Redskins
-- not the more recent, pass-wacky by necessity version of 2007, but the more
balanced attack of 2004 and 2005, when Seattle's offensive line and running
game were still working and halfback Shaun Alexander was near the top of the
league. He's got a good fit as far as offensive personnel goes.
The 2007 Redskins finished the season at 9-7, with a middle-of-the-pack offense
that came alive late in the season when quarterback Jason Campbell was injured
and veteran Todd Collins came in and started flinging the ball around to multiple
targets. No receiver caught a touchdown pass through the first half of the season
as Campbell looked more to his running backs and tight end Chris Cooley as outlets.
Collins understood better how to spread the field and create tension in a defense
by shaking up the game plan. And while Zorn will bring a multi-faceted playbook
to the Redskins, his time under Mike Holmgren in Seattle taught him that there
had best be a level of simplicity under all that complexity.
"There were times when the philosophy of the play -- I might have thought
the play should have go here, here and here," Zorn said when I asked him
what he learned about quarterbacks that he didn’t already know. "And
it began too complicated for Mike and how he wanted the quarterback to think
of it. He's say, 'No. This is not why I'm calling this play. I'm calling this
play to hit that guy. And if we don't hit that guy, hit this guy. That's it.'
Then I would adjust my teaching, the way that I would teach that pattern, to
adjust to what Mike wanted in a play. He likes simple. And now I can say, 'I
like simple.' Because I've learned a lot from him in that regard."
Zorn was the Seahawks' first quarterback from 1976 through 1983 -- 1984 was
a non-starter before he finished his career in Green Bay and Tampa Bay -- and
he rejoined the organization in 2001 to help Mike Holmgren develop a new quarterback
that Holmgren had acquired from the Packers. Fellow by the name of Matt Hasselbeck.
Zorn learned a great deal from Holmgren about offensive scheme and quarterback
development. At the Combine on Friday, he discussed what the post-grad education
under Professor Holmgren was like.
"Mike entrusted me with a lot. When I came in, I decided, 'here's a quarterback
guru,' and what I wanted to do was make sure he never had to tell me something
that I wasn't doing right or I needed to change. I wanted to make sure I was
open to things that he said to the quarterback that could help me understand
how he was coaching. There were a lot of times he'd watch the play, and I'd
watch the play, and all of a sudden it didn't happen the way we wanted it. I'd
step in and Mike would be like, 'OK, let's see what he says.' He'd hear me say
something and then we'd both go back and he wouldn't say a word. He knew I was
right on. Then there'd be times when he'd step up and I would walk there to
listen to what he had to say. I would say in my mind, 'That's exactly it.' And
we'd both step back. So we were kind of on the same page there."
The on-field personnel are in place in Washington -- there is no question about
that. The Redskins' offensive line is effective, though it can be worn down
over time. In Collins and Campbell, Zorn has an intriguing veteran journeyman/future
star dynamic. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are textbook backs for this system,
and Cooley should flourish in a system that asks the tight end to stretch the
seam to keep the flats open. The receiver corps has one or two question marks,
but it's almost as if Zorn has acquired a roster that was pre-built for his
"What our goal has been, ever since I've been in Seattle, is to have a
balanced attack. So that when the ball is snapped, the ball is just not going
to one guy. (Slot receiver) Bobby Engram in Seattle may have caught nine balls
one game, but we didn't try to throw it to him nine times on that particular
pattern. There were other patterns where the ball was supposed to go to somebody
else and it would end up going to him. That's the beauty of what's going to
happen here. We've got a strong tight end in Chris Cooley. We've got Santana Moss. And we've got Antwaan Randle El, who I kind of picture him as like a Bobby
Engram - an inside receiver with some real talent. We're looking for the other
side to be productive as well. That position is a little open now as far as
who's going to take that role. So I see a balanced attack. That's the goal I
have in mind."
Zorn said that Portis will fit right in to the new offense, and he'll do so
more readily than Shaun Alexander ever did because of Alexander's liabilities
as a pass-blocker. Zorn can leave Portis in on third down. "The things
I've seen from Clinton Portis is that he's not only a great one-back runner,
I think he can run behind our fullback. I also think he's a heckuva pass blocker.
To be able to leave Clinton in there in a critical passing down, to threat with
the run or draw or screen, and then be able to have him pass protect in a blitz
situation, yeah, I think that kind a wholeness of offense. That's what I'm hoping
for with him.
Bigger back Ladell Betts will be a key cog as well. "Ladell is going to
be a complement to Clinton," Zorn said. "Ladell can come in - we had
almost the exact parallel situation in Seattle with Mo Morris and Shaun Alexander.
We wouldn't have them in the same backfield as well, because Clinton right now
is proving he's a really strong pass protector. Shaun was a strong runner, but
(displayed) limited pass protection I would say in my mind. But I think that's
luxury we're going to have is to put them in the backfield at the same time.
It would be all the time. Those are change-ups. Those are add-ons, attachments."
The question that lingers is how Campbell will fit in, and how much work he
will require with Zorn before he's ready to take command of this offense. Matt
Hasselbeck may be a Pro Bowl quarterback now, but he struggled with the exact
timing and multiple reads of this offense for a few years before it became second
nature and he could truly live it on the field.
"I've seen Jason Campbell at the combine here, over two years ago now.
When I see him on video, I remember what I saw here. I think he's got a very
good release. I think when he's got to drop the ball off he drops his arm a
little bit, so there are techniques to work on there. But his release is very
good. I'm surprised by how tall he is with how well he moves his feet. I think
that's the think I'm going to work on the most with him, is just his mindset
on moving better in the pocket. I don't want to think of himself as only a drop-back
passer. I want him to think of himself as a guy who can move as well."
Mobility is key in this offense. Zorn had it in a different scheme, back when
he was slinging the ball to Steve Largent. Hasselbeck's pocket presence took
a quantum leap forward in the 2004 season. According to Zorn, the biggest challenge
Campbell faces is just knowing that he'll be working with the same playbook
for more than one year. "He has cited that he's had, what, seven offensive
coordinators in the years he's played in college and the pros now. All I can
just say is, 'That's the way it goes.' I can't change that. He can't change
that. What we can do is not major on that. We can't use that as a reason he
can't do something. I mean, he should be able to do a lot of things. That's
the way I look at it. You should be able to do everything now that you've had
so many offensive coordinators (laughs). It's just the way it is."
Zorn concluded his thoughts about Campbell, who he called the starting quarterback
without question, with a few thoughts about the demands that young quarterbacks
face in the NFL.
"The first thing they face is the different media attention that they've
gotten. It's big on the college level, but it's bigger here. More demands. The
next thing he's going to have to face is learning a mass of offensive football.
And there's not a 20-hour limit. There are no classes he has to go to distract
(him). So the concentration will be demanding of him, both in the classroom,
even in the locker room getting ready to go to practice. Your wheels better
be turning. Then when you get out to practice you have to execute. The demand
of accuracy for a quarterback is at a premium. We don't want a ball to hit the
ground. You're not just throwing a pass and going, 'Hey, that felt pretty good.
I'll hit it next time.' We want the ball not only to hit the receiver, but you
want to hit the correct shoulder. You want to put the ball in the exact spot
you want, not just in the vicinity. So those are things that probably a rookie
quarterback they're going to have to make major adjustments."