- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2008

OK, time to start the countdown. The almighty Redskins open training camp July 20, just 12 days from now, and henceforth nothing else will matter much on the D.C. sports scene.

So the battered and bruised Nationals somehow manage to win three games in a row - big deal. So the Wizards re-sign Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison - so what? So D.C. United makes a strong move toward its fifth MLS Cup title - who cares?

In this town, it has been, is and will continue to be Redskins uber alles.

Even if the Hall of Fame coach slinks back to NASCAR after failing to duplicate his old magic.

Even if this once-dominant team appears unlikely to win more than it loses this season.

Even if the ego-driven owner buys every radio station, amusement park and free agent in sight.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In their fourth season, the Nats were programmed to be winners hovering on the brink of pennant contention and dominating the dog days headlines. Instead they’re 22 games under .500, and even some members of the Lerner family probably have turned off - or sold - their 60-inch high-def TVs by now.

From now until the holidays, it’s all about the Redskins, for better or worse.

No longer is Ryan Zimmerman, the out-of-commission third baseman, the primary Z-Man for fans hereabout. That distinction now belongs to Jim Zorn, the old Seahawks quarterback who accepted a job as the Redskins’ offensive coordinator a few months ago and found himself being named head coach before he could begin designing his own 700-playbook.

Oops, sorry, that was Al Saunders, whose departure from the scene saved untold numbers of trees in the metro area. Zorn says he will simplify the offensive and defensive schemes, which really boil down to three words anyway: Just win baby! (With apologies to the widely beloved Al Davis.)

But winning looks like a real long shot, partially because the NFL schedule maker apparently has it in for the Our Guys. Over the season’s first five weeks, the Redskins must play their three toughest NFC East rivals - Giants, Cowboys and Eagles - all on the road. By Columbus Day, Zorn could be about as popular locally as, say, Dick Cheney.

Right now, though, Jimbo hasn’t lost a game. It remains to be seen whether his Redskins tenure ultimately will rank with those of Joe Gibbs I (140-65) and George Allen (69-35) - or those of Norv Turner (50-60) and Steve Spurrier (12-20).

When camp opens, Zorn and his assistants will have only 14 days to ready their troops for the Pro Football Hall of Fame preseason date with the Colts on Aug. 3 in Canton, Ohio. Because of that early engagement - highly appropriate because ex-Redskins Darrell Green and Art Monk will be among the inductees - Zorn’s gang will play five exhibitions. They might need all of them, too, before facing the Giants on Sept. 4 in beautiful downtown East Rutherford, N.J.

Every team has question marks as camp opens, and the Redskins have enough to publish their own punctuation manual. First and possibly foremost is Zorn himself. Will he be inspirational or insipid as a leader of men? Could he emerge as another Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls after being virtually unknown to most at the start, or as another Otto Graham, a fellow ex-quarterback who called all the wrong signals as the boss?

Well, that’s what you pay your money to see (and lots of it if you’re a season ticket-holder at FedEx Field).

If the new coach is unproven, so is starting quarterback Jason Campbell, who will be playing under his third offensive coordinator (Sherman Smith, with a helping hand from Zorn) in four years.

Campbell is one of five key players returning from major injuries - offensive linemen Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas, defensive back Carlos Rogers and linebacker Rocky McIntosh are the others - and you never know how quickly such people will recover. All in all, it could be a difficult summer and fall for the almighty Redskins and their fans.

Nonetheless, mania time is approaching again. In the capital of the free world this fall, even John McCain and Barack Obama could become afterthoughts among those who paint their faces burgundy and gold.



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