- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The 121-play sample size may be small, but how Jim Zorn uses his offensive personnel and what he does out of those formations is beginning to take shape. It’s a process that will continue as the Washington Redskins‘ new coach adapts his play calling to the parts he has at his disposal.

It’s a transition that made a big stride in Sunday’s win over New Orleans, when the Redskins’ points improved from 7 to 29, their yardage from 209 to 455 and the number of 20-yard plays from two to six.

Nine players caught passes and the offense had more rhythm than in Week 1 as Zorn used more of his personnel and wasn’t as conservative on first and second downs. The more confidence he has in Jason Campbell to make the throws, Clinton Portis the gains and Santana Moss/Chris Cooley the catches, the more dynamic the offense could become.

“That’s a natural progression,” reserve quarterback Todd Collins said. “We’ve had some preseason games and [Zorn] saw some flashes from guys but until you see them play week in and week out, you understand what each guy can do and what they’re best at. This week compared to last week, we saw that.”

Not including the kneel-down formation, Zorn has implemented seven different personnel groupings (aligned in myriad formations) in the first two games, everything from four-receiver/one-back for a single snap to three-receiver/one-back/one-tight end for 40 snaps.

Zorn has used at least one running back on all but one play and two backs on 51 snaps. The Redskins had two tight ends on the field (in a three-point stance) 18 times and three or more receivers on 71 plays.

Three groupings have proven the most productive.

The Redskins have averaged 10 yards on 14 snaps using four-receiver/one-back, 6.2 yards on 30 snaps in the two-receiver/two-back/one-tight end grouping and 5.7 yards on 40 snaps in three-receiver/one-back/one-tight end.

The positive from Week 2 is the Redskins got big plays from a variety of players and formations. One new wrinkle Zorn added last week in practice - the end around to Moss - gained 27 yards against the Saints.

“As a coach, you want to see the guys you’ve seen all week in practice do the same stuff in a game,” Moss said. “That’s something I’m pretty sure every coach looks forward to. [Zorn] saw people do it against guys in a different uniform. All you can do now is expect him to be hungrier and say, ‘If he did it once, he can do it twice.’”

Moss and Cooley will always be the first players Zorn wants dialed in to the passing game, but he said he must make consistent efforts to include other pieces of the offense. With rookies Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Davis, it’s likely they will be given a specific set of plays, something that can be drilled into them during the week.

“We’ll do that with [the rookies] but with my starters, we’ll do some of that stuff but I can’t put Santana in position to catch every single ball,” Zorn said. “It’s more trying to run similar plays with different guys in different positions.”

Zorn hasn’t been shy to use players in different spots.

The “bunch” formation - players lined up close to the offensive tackles, sometimes one behind the other - is used frequently and with nearly every eligible receiver on the roster.

Pre-snap shifting - a staple of Al Saunders’ system the last two years - is almost nonexistent.

Portis and Ladell Betts have shared the backfield on a handful of snaps.

Cooley still lines up all over the field.

And Todd Yoder has played as a fullback.

It’s up to Campbell to get everybody in the right position, something that was made tougher last week when twice the Redskins had 12 men on the field, forcing them to use two first-quarter timeouts.

“It’s always a work in progress,” Campbell said. “It was only our second full game. The more games we play, the more comfortable everybody will feel. Each time I run a play, I see something different and a defense may give you a different look.”

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