- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

As a quarterback for most of his life, the Washington Redskins’ Jason Campbell knows the importance of avoiding trouble. It’s called escapability, a valuable asset in dodging onrushing defenders - and coach Jim Zorn when he starts to get mad.

“He’s got this little spit to him when he yells,” Campbell said, laughing. “I’ve got to lean back. It let’s you know he’s kind of angry right now.”

But Campbell doesn’t mind. He knows Zorn, who doubles as the Redskins’ quarterbacks coach, shares his passion and can relate to his position. Zorn, a former NFL quarterback, has been there.

“He understands,” Campbell said. “He’s been in a lot of the same situations. He’s been through adversity. He’s been through a lot of the highs and lows of the NFL, and he understands what it takes and how you’ve got to persevere.”

Rookie Colt Brennan, who played at Hawaii for ex-NFL quarterback June Jones, sees another benefit.

“When you have that much interaction because your head coach is also your position coach, it allows him to see you a lot more,” the sixth-round draft pick said. “If you’re successful, it makes a bigger impression.”

Zorn served as quarterbacks coach with the Seattle Seahawks for seven years and for nine years in college before that. As the expansion Seahawks’ first quarterback, he earned a place in the team’s Ring of Honor.

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren hired Zorn in 2001 to work with Matt Hasselbeck. Four years later, Hasselbeck started the Pro Bowl after he led Seattle to Super Bowl XL.

“I can run into [Zorn] in March at church, and we’ll spend 30 minutes talking about a drill he thought up where I can work on something that would have helped me on that play, against that team, that would have helped us win the game,” Hasselbeck told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2006. “I’m very, very lucky I have him as a coach that way.”

Can Zorn have the same effect on Campbell? As Campbell learns the intricacies Zorn’s West Coast offense, he has sometimes looked shaky during the preseason. But his teammates said he exudes more confidence than before.

“This is a new system, but he’s taking it on full charge, showing confidence in the huddle in terms of getting people where they’re supposed to be,” wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. “And he’s not afraid to take a chance on making a throw. It might be a tight squeeze, but he’s gonna try and stick it in there.”

Campbell’s development “is a process,” Zorn said. “It’s not like instant coffee. You don’t just add water and shake. It takes time.”

It also takes extra time on Zorn’s part.

“I’ve really been trying to pay attention,” he said. “I’m there in meetings, I’m there on the field and I try to impress my will on the quarterbacks.”

But he can’t do it alone, which is why the Redskins have two quarterbacks coaches. Zorn hired longtime college coach Chris Meidt as an “offensive assistant,” who works with the quarterbacks when Zorn tends to his other coaching duties.

Meidt coached at Division III St. Olaf (Minn.) College, where he earned a reputation as a sharp offensive mind, for six seasons. He and Zorn became friends in the mid-1990s when Zorn worked as an assistant at the University of Minnesota, and they spent a lot of time attending clinics and discussing “the philosophy of the quarterback position and running an offense and what it means to have a good tempo,” Meidt said. “We’re much aligned in our thinking.

“We’re very intrusive teachers,” Meidt said. “Some guys coach in a way they call the bottom line. Meaning, the ball is complete; that’s good enough. We’re not that way. We both believe in teaching every play - the fundamentals of the play, the drop, the mechanics, where their head is, the rhythm of the throw, ball location. We really both strongly believe in that.”

Said Zorn: “He’s been conscientious to make sure we’re speaking with one voice. He listens to what I say, and my hope is, and I’ve seen this, is he’s teaching the same techniques I’m trying to teach.”

Hiring Meidt from a small college is a move typical of Zorn, who often takes the unconventional approach. His quarterback drills include dodge ball, hurling tackling pads at the quarterback to simulate the pass rush and teaching the use of the nonpassing hand as a “shield” to fend off tacklers.

Then there was the Slip ‘N Slide. Which, according to Brennan, didn’t work out so well.

“Jason almost rolled his ankle,” he said. “That drill has been gone ever since.”

But Campbell considers learning to stay low in the pocket, which allows quarterbacks to move around better, as the biggest adjustment he had to make.

“You’ve been standing tall your whole career, and now he wants you to stay low,” Campbell said. “It’s kind of an adjustment. Stay low and throw around these 6-5 guards and tackles. But I think it’s worked out good. After showing us the reasons why, it all made sense.”

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