- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2008

The marathon will end Tuesday afternoon when the Washington Redskins begin a five-day break - 116 days after they reported for Jim Zorn’s first training camp.

The Redskins enter Week 9 tied for the NFC lead with six wins. They sit a half-game behind the New York Giants in the NFC East.

Halfway through the season, are the Redskins a legitimate contender or will they fade down the stretch? Can Jason Campbell continue his efficient play the second time through the division? Will Clinton Portis have anything left come late December? How will the defense continue to overcome so many injuries?

For some answers, we asked for four opinions last week. Our panel: ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, former NFL executive Mike Lombardi (who writes for nationalfootballpost.com) and NFL Network/Fox commentators Brian Baldinger and Brian Billick, the former Baltimore Ravens coach.

Jim Zorn

Zorn is wearing three hats - quarterbacks coach, play caller and head coach - and two of them for the first time. The offense is seventh in the NFL in yards per game and Zorn has drawn raves for his fearless play-calling.

Billick: “I’ve known Jim for years and years and I was concerned that he was taking on too much because he was going to be doing everything, but he had a plan. He recognized that he had to utilize his expertise because his first job was getting Jason Campbell up to speed with the structure of the offense.”

Baldinger: “It’s to his credit that he’s delegated to Greg Blache and Danny Smith and trusted Joe Bugel and the rest of the staff, which lets him focus on the quarterback’s development. He easily could be up for coach of the year at this point.”

Jaworski: “He’s done a terrific job. The one thing that stands out to me is the versatility of the offense - formation variation, motion, personal packages. Very diversified.”

Lombardi: “I thought it was going to be a tough transition to change the dynamics. And then never having called plays and [having] never managed a game, I thought it would be difficult. He’s been brilliant. The thing that has helped Jim - not to minimize what he’s done - is the staff has been there, so Jim’s made the adjustment as much as everybody has made the adjustment to him.”

Jason Campbell

The only starting quarterback in the NFL without an interception this season, Campbell entered Week 9 tied for fifth in the NFL with a 100.5 passer rating.

Lombardi: “Go back to when Donovan McNabb first started with [Eagles coach] Andy Reid, and Andy tried to run the West Coast offense. It wasn’t what it was supposed to be, so Andy developed his own West Coast for Donovan and that’s what Jim has done with Jason.”

Billick: “His improvement is across the board. I can’t tell you how impressed I am by his development - and it’s both Jim and Jason. Jason has turned himself over to Jim and the things initially focused on - quickening his pace, quickening his agility in the pocket - you can clearly see. When I saw he had no interceptions, I expected to watch the film and see a guy that was not taking chances with the ball, taking more sacks, throwing for a low completion percentage and not making a lot of big plays. But that’s not the case at all. He’s been the complete package.”

Baldinger: “The more important area of improvement is how decisive he is with the ball. He knows exactly where he wants to go. He’s been incredibly consistent and accurate since the second half against New Orleans. He’s been throwing pinpoint passes; it’s not that teams are falling down. And because of the receivers they have, he has to be more accurate because he’s throwing to [5-foot-10 receivers] Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El. It’s not like he’s throwing to [6-5] Plaxico Burress, who gives you great margin for error because he has height and you can throw it to a local area and he can go get it.”

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