- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Washington Redskins convened at Redskin Park yesterday for the first time since coach Joe Gibbs retired 10 weeks ago for the start of the voluntary offseason conditioning program.

“I’m very pleased with how many guys are already here and how many guys will be here, but I’m not disappointed with guys that aren’t here,” new coach Jim Zorn said. “We have a good line of where the guys are, who they’re working with. There’s just a handful of those guys.”

Veterans of previous Redskins coaching changes, such as Pro Bowl snapper Ethan Albright, stressed the continuity of having every projected starter under contract and of returning 11 of 17 assistant coaches from a team that made the playoffs last season and in 2005.

The defense under Greg Blache, promoted from line coach, and special teams, still under Danny Smith, haven’t changed, and Zorn plans to keep the running game consistent.

“There hasn’t been a complete changeover,” Albright said. “There is some stability, some doing it the way we’ve been doing it [including in the conditioning program]. It’s not at all the night-and-day switch like some teams I’ve been on. I think it will be a huge help. Instead of rebuilding, we’re building on last year’s success.”

Running back Clinton Portis, among the vast majority of players who have played for the Redskins only under Gibbs, was saddened by his departure but excited about the arrival of Zorn. The new coach will be the unquestioned offensive czar — a marked contrast to the past two years, when Gibbs and associate head coach Al Saunders weren’t always in sync.

“Obviously everyone in the locker room would’ve loved to have Coach back,” Portis said. “Maybe we didn’t do the things that he set out to accomplish, but at the same time people became men and learned that from coach Gibbs. That will last a lifetime.”

Portis said the change in coaches also will be reflected in their offenses.

“Coach Gibbs was a great coach, but he tended to worry,” Portis said. “Coach Zorn is just going to let it rip. It’s going to be a more relaxed setting. There will be more opportunity to open it up and spread it out. There won’t be people pulling at each other about whatever the call is going to be.”

Tight end Chris Cooley made the Pro Bowl last year, but he’s also enthused about the possibilities of Zorn’s quick-hitting scheme.

“It’s an offense that I think I’ll be more comfortable in,” Cooley said. “I walked out of the offensive staff meeting and the last words were, ‘We are going to get you the ball.’ [You] gotta be excited about that. I’ll have the chance more to make big plays with my legs. Our old offense was completely a timing-based offense. We were supposed to be exactly where we were supposed to be exactly when we were supposed to be there. This isn’t that. It’s ‘get open.’ ”

Notes — Receiver D.J. Hackett, the only free agent the Redskins have brought in for a visit, signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Carolina Panthers….

The Redskins re-signed former Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Matthias Askew, who was one of their training camp cuts last summer. Washington waived receivers Mike Espy and Steven Harris.

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