- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2008

Fans lined the fence as many as 10 deep on Sunday morning, shouted to the players (“LaRon Landry! Fifty percent of the world is afraid of you!”) and pleaded for autographs. Advertising banners decorated the team headquarters at Redskin Park, and there were tents for the media, concessions and “VIPs,” whoever those were. By 10 a.m. it was nearly 90 degrees, but it felt worse.

“Same old same old,” offensive tackle Chris Samuels, who is starting his ninth season, said after the first workout of the Washington Redskins‘ 2008 training camp.

But as the day unfolded, it was hardly that.

During the morning, Jim Zorn ran his very first practice of his very first day of his very first training camp as a coach. A little while later, he would deal with his first significant injuries and then his first really significant trade.

“Pretty good” was Zorn’s instant analysis after the 1 1/2-hour morning session. “I thought for as much planning that’s gone on for this particular practice, players were there mentally. It was hot, and they just pushed through. I thought it was a great first practice.”

Not really. Zorn didn’t know it at the time, but defensive end Phillip Daniels had suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and is likely lost for the season. He was hurt during a supposed noncontact drill late in the morning workout.

“The hard part is he was so ready,” Zorn mourned after meeting with Daniels and his wife following the afternoon practice. “And he did everything he could possibly do to have not just a great training camp but an excellent football season. And now he’s got a new challenge before him, and, of course, we have a new challenge before us.”

The Redskins also lost another defensive end, Alex Buzbee, a second-year reserve from Georgetown who suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon. As with Daniels, Buzbee’s injury was not caused by contact. Cornerback Fred Smoot sprained his ankle in the afternoon.

But then came the big news. Toward evening, mere hours after Daniels went down, the Redskins got All-Pro defensive end Jason Taylor in a trade with Miami, a deal that resonated throughout the league.

Welcome to the NFL, Coach.

Zorn, a surprise pick in February as the franchise’s 27th coach after Joe Gibbs’ sudden retirement, is 54. He was a quarterbacks coach in the NFL for the last 11 years and had never been a head coach at any level until now.

“It was very exciting,” he said. “What was fun for me was to just stand back and see all the systems work. Everybody was running to the different drills. Everybody knew where they were gonna go. And to see that kind of pace and that kind of confidence … that kind of pleased me because there’s a lot of work that went into just that one practice.”

Even after all the offseason workouts and meetings, there is still something fresh and new about the first day of camp, especially to a rookie coach.

“I really feel like there’s a lot of serious work here,” Zorn said. “It’s not just for fun. It’s not just to introduce me. It’s about getting ready. That’s the sense that I got today, being out on the field and getting our guys ready to play.”

The players enjoyed Zorn’s refraining from full contact, and some noted that the first practice seemed a bit shorter than what they were accustomed to.

“We didn’t hit the first day, so that’s great,” Samuels said.

Some noted a quicker pace, a byproduct of the West Coast offense Zorn imported from Seattle. He worked there the last seven years as an assistant to Mike Holmgren.

“Because we’re playing in that West Coast offense, their tempo is very fast,” Smoot said. “They come out gunning. They just believe in no mistakes. They believe in perfection, and, point blank, they’re gonna seek perfection.”

But Zorn said the Redskins aren’t quite up to speed.

“We need to pick it up,” he said. “If this particular tempo continues to be a part of who we are, I think it’s too slow.”

Fans began flocking to Redskin Park in Ashburn early in the day. Team officials announced the morning session attendance at 6,100, a crowd that made an impression on both Zorn and his wife, Joy.

“I tell you what: It’s absolutely crazy how many fans are here,” she said. “It feels like half of Northern Virginia came out. I think it’s very cool.”

Zorn said he was “amazed” when he arrived at 6:30 a.m. and saw fans’ cars in the parking lot.

“They’re so active and vocal,” he said. “I think the fans are pretty educated. They really were right in the practice. They knew what was going on. It was pretty exciting.”

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