- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

Jim Zorn confirmed Friday what his words and body language have suggested since he was hired by the Washington Redskins — the guy likes his job. “Being the head coach, I really, really enjoy,” he said.

The 6-2 Redskins seem to really, really enjoy playing for Zorn. The offense likes his play calling, which displays bravado and confidence in them. The defense likes that Greg Blache has his trust to run the entire shop. The entire roster no doubt appreciated Zorn’s move this week to take the pads off in practice.

Despite the first-half success, Zorn hasn’t asked himself what some - especially in Seattle - have wondered: What the heck took so long for him to be a play caller, much less a coach?

“No, I don’t think about that because this is just how it happened,” he said. “I have no regrets. I just tried to take advantage of every situation I was in.”

Entering Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Redskins are the surprise of the NFC, Clinton Portis is an MVP candidate and Jason Campbell is the league’s only quarterback without an interception. During an interview last week, Zorn reviewed the first half and looked ahead to the next eight games.

Q: It was assumed going into the season that the running game would be ahead of the passing game at this point. But did you expect Jason Campbell and the passing game to be this far along?

A: I’m glad the passing game is where it is, but I don’t think it’s consistent. We’ve made some big plays, but the consistency is what I’m looking for. It’s when we have a play called and everybody can disperse and you can see it when you line up and guys are ready for the ball to be snapped. I think we have some of that. But I do know this: The history of this offense from my perspective is that about the third year is when you see it all the time and you really start attacking. In Seattle, we built from 2000 and made the Super Bowl in 2005. And we won the division four years in a row. Things start cooking after a while. I’m hoping we can do it sooner here.

Q: Campbell is the only starting quarterback without an interception this year and entered Week 9 tied for fifth in the NFL with a 100.5 passer rating. When did you see the light come on for him?

A: I saw changes when he saw he was staring at one receiver. In that first game [a 16-7 loss to the New York Giants], when he had to play the whole game, a lot of things were revealed. He played the whole game, and we were going to find out where the problems were, if there were any - and there were. He reverted to what he knew best, and that was, “I’m going to hone in on this guy, and I tell you what, I’m going to wait until he’s open.”

When he saw it, he did something about it, made the changes and saw how productive he could be playing in a different mind-set. … He’s still growing. He can be really good. … At some point, something will happen that will throw him into being one of the top quarterbacks in the league or a good starter.

Q: Clinton Portis is a candidate for first-half MVP with league highs of 187 rushes for 944 yards. At what point do you start monitoring his carries so he has enough left if you do reach the playoffs?

A: Clinton thinks about his carries, and if he is beat and exhausted because it was a long series or whatever, we feel very comfortable putting Ladell [Betts], Shaun [Alexander] or Rock [Cartwright] in there so they can have a whole series themselves. We’re not bashful about that. Clinton’s regulating when he comes out. … I don’t have a worry about the carries quite yet. We need him, and I’m not trying to burn him out. He didn’t play hardly at all in the preseason, and we played five games, so he didn’t get beat up in those games. I’m glad we did that because of how productive he has been in these first eight games.”

Q: The three second-round picks - Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis - have combined for seven catches and no touchdowns in the first half. What’s your take on their development?

A: Now that we’ve seen them for eight games and a half-season of practices, we know there’s more than just potential there. These guys can actually go and can actually play. Because of their training camps - not really productive, not coming into camp quite ready to take on as much as they needed to - I think that’s been their setback. It’s not a disappointment from their ability. I think we’re going to see a lot of production from them throughout the years. The only disappointment is Malcolm Kelly - and not his ability but his nagging [knee] injury.

Q: On defense, you have fought injuries to plenty of starters but rank among the top eight in most categories. But the sacks (10) and takeaways (eight) haven’t been there. Does that have to improve to make a run?

A: We have to do better. We want to do better. Part of the deal is to get sacks; you have to be able to push the pocket inside to get the squeeze outside, and it works in unison. That’s the disappointment - not getting the inside pressure. But we have been very good about containing quarterbacks because, even [against Pittsburgh], the premium isn’t so much on getting to him but not letting him move around so he can create something that’s not there. If we can corral him, even though we might not bring him down, we can confine him.

Q: Jason Taylor has been limited to one sack in six games and won’t play against Pittsburgh because of a calf injury. As a staff, do you plan for the second half as if getting anything from Taylor is a bonus?

A: It will be. If we can earn a playoff opportunity and he continues to improve as he goes along, by the time we get there, he may be right where we need him to be. … He’s just not 100 percent yet.

Q: As a first-time head coach, what’s the toughest decision you’ve had to make this year?

A: Cutting our punter [Durant Brooks]. You continue to give him enough chances to grow, and then having to make that move was a hard deal. We had a couple of difficult situations to deal with Joe Bugel’s daughter dying; that was a tough team deal.

Q: Formerly a quarterbacks coach, you now are a play caller and head coach for the first time. Which do you enjoy more?

A: I really love them both. I’m really enjoying it. I know I couldn’t call the plays if I didn’t have [offensive coordinator Sherman Smith] creating the cohesiveness on the offensive staff and putting the plan together, and that truly frees me up to call the plays. I like that part of it. It would be more difficult if I didn’t have a coordinator as capable as him. I would be a nervous wreck. I would be in real trouble. He creates the right atmosphere and work ethic with the staff.

I like all the changes that happen during the day. I talk to the media. I prepare for the next practice. People come in and out of my office. If a player comes in and says, ‘Coach, I have a problem,’ we sit down and talk. I like all that.

Q: You seem to enjoy just about every aspect of being a head coach. Did being a quarterbacks coach get to feel monotonous?

A: This keeps me on my toes, but when I was a quarterbacks coach, I challenged myself all the time. I tried to get more and more responsibility and wanted things heaped on me so I could have a say. I wanted a say-so, but as a position coach and not a coordinator, that’s tough because you’re in third position, so you really don’t have authority outside of your area. I knew my position, and I stayed in it. Within my position, I tried to kick some rear and be as good as I can be.

Q: The Redskins are 6-2. In the NFC East, with every team entering Week 9 above .500, will it take at least 12 victories to win the division?

A: Oh gosh, I haven’t even though about that. (laughs) Twelve wins. … I don’t know. Going 12-4? That would be unbelievable. That would be a good outing.

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