- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 3, 2008

Forgive Jim Zorn if he’s still getting used to being a head coach, to concerning himself with more than just quarterbacks. The narrowness of his previous existence was driven home to him again yesterday, he said, when he found himself “praising a DB for making an interception.”

In the past, Zorn would have filed the play under Failure — and dissected it, endlessly, in his office afterward. But he’s the overlord of the entire team now, not just a single position; and as we all know, one unit’s Unfortunate Event is another’s Potential Game-Changing Takeaway. You hate to see the offense commit a turnover, sure, but on the other hand, “The defense helped us get the ball back,” the Redskins’ coach-in-training said.

It figures to be like this for a while, as Zorn gets a handle on his new job and the club gets a feel for its new leader. Or to put it another way: This minicamp will be a learning experience for everybody, players and head coach alike.

Still, there’s no mistaking that it’s a new day in Redskinsland. Quarterbacks can be seen trying to hit a target with their passes, trying to throw the ball into a net to improve their accuracy. (Old fashioned Joe Gibbs never did anything so, well, old fashioned.) And rookies can be seen wearing helmets bereft of the Redskins logo. That, the coach has decided, is something they’ll have to earn by making the final roster.

Then there’s the 15-yard rule: All personnel must stand at least 15 yards behind the offense when it’s running through plays — even Joe Bugel, who’s known to hover over his line like a Helicopter Parent. Zorn wants Jason Campbell and Co. to have more elbow room … and the staff to be able to view the entire field without obstruction. He also doesn’t want white-haired assistant Don Breaux to get trampled and break a hip.

As for Zorn’s practice-field persona, it’s very vocal, very high energy — a marked departure from Coach Joe’s understated ways. One moment he’s beseeching Campbell to “Stay low!” when he drops back (that is, to bend his knees a bit so that he’s in a more athletic position), the next moment he’s jogging over to a receiver to explain to him that he didn’t do anything wrong when a pass sailed 20 yards over his head. (It was just a bad throw by the QB.)

“I’m a hands-on coach,” he said. “I almost can’t help myself. I just want to be sure we’re communicating.”

Part of that is his extra-extroverted personality. Part of it is just nervous excitement, the adrenaline rush that caused him to sleep fitfully Thursday night as he pondered his first real day as an NFL head coach. And part of it is all those years as an assistant, an instructor in the finer points of football. His responsibilities might have changed, but his basic nature hasn’t.

Zorn’s West Coast offense — the brief glimpses of it, anyway — looked swell in 7-on-7 drills … and even better against no defense at all. But then, that’s usually the case in minicamp. Every team is unbeatable in May, every offense unstoppable (except maybe Marty Schottenheimer’s).

Meanwhile, the big receivers who were the focal point of last weekend’s draft, 6-foot-2 Devin Thomas (pick No. 2a) and 6-4 Malcolm Kelly (pick No. 2c), made Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El look especially Smurf-like. (Actually, if you want to be honest about it, they made Santana and Antwaan look like they were starring in “Honey, I Shrunk the Wideouts.”)

Who knows what kind of player Kelly, in particular, will turn out to be? In terms of his size and speed (in the 4.6s for the 40), though, he comes across as a Marques Colston-type — which is a very nice type to be (inasmuch as Colston has caught 168 passes for 2,240 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Saints).

To a man, the Redskins are anxious to please their new boss. Casey Rabach, for instance, is more than happy to “raise my butt an inch or two,” he said, if it will help Campbell and Todd Collins get away from center quicker. That was something Zorn noted the day he was hired, that Jason, in his opinion, was having to crouch too low to receive the snap.

“We’ll find a happy medium,” Rabach promised.

Rest assured they will. Zorn, after all, is a self-described “man who really pays attention to the details.” In fact, after the morning workout, he was headed to his office “to watch [the center exchanges between Campbell and Rabach] on video. I want our quarterbacks to be explosive out of there.”

We can only imagine how difficult it must be for Rabach, after all these years, to have to learn to squat all over again. But it’s a new era in Ashburn — and the Redskins, it’s clear, will do things Jim Zorn’s way.

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