- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Considering his starters played fewer than 15 snaps, coaches were forced to mix and match various personnel combinations because of injuries and it was the first preseason game, it came as a surprise last week when Jim Zorn used the word “soft” multiple times to describe the Washington Redskins’ performance against Baltimore.

Little early to be firing that kind of bullet or show panic, some said.

But it came at just the right time.

Training camp is six weeks of drudgery made more unwatchable by four exhibition games. Things need to be shaken up at some point to reset the focus, reignite the intensity and make it possible to forget how long August really is.

Calculated or not, Zorn’s comments have been embraced by several players, and the entire team has reacted with a week of up-tempo practices that have included fewer mistakes, fewer turnovers and more trash talking.

“The point got across, and you can tell by the week of practice,” receiver Antwaan Randle El said. “It’s hot, but guys have gone full speed and haven’t let up.”

Said kick returner Rock Cartwright: “He thought that’s what we needed, and we have picked it up.”

It may not translate on the field Saturday night against Pittsburgh (the Steelers are better), but Zorn’s tone Friday and his actions during practice this month have exhibited just how comfortable he is in his second year.

After practice Tuesday at broiling Redskin Park, Zorn said the “soft” comments weren’t an indictment on the Redskins’ effort - he believes they played hard. They just didn’t play well. But for a coach who is all about the details, there were too many slip-ups against Baltimore for him not to say anything.

“When I looked at the video, it was a softer cushion on some things, a little softer pass [protection] than we needed, and when you looked at our run game, you said, ‘Ah, that was soft,’ meaning where was our grind and our grit?” Zorn said.

“If we get blown out, I’m going to look for answers. To me, that wasn’t a blowout. It was a preseason game, and it was part of our training camp and part of our learning process. My words had nothing to do with questioning the heart of my men.”

The good sign is that the players have taken the words the right way. Zorn wasn’t questioning their guts - just their intensity level.

After watching the video Friday, Zorn dropped the s-bombs without being directly asked about the Redskins’ effort, leading to the belief he wanted to send a message - especially to the young players - that how they played in Baltimore won’t help them make the team and certainly won’t help the Redskins win games.

Zorn was asked Tuesday whether his statements would have been impossible to make for a rookie coach.

“I might not have known [the full scope of the performance],” he said. “I could tell certain parts of what really was the issue, but seeing it for so long, you come to realize, ‘Oh, I get it.’ Maybe that’s part of the experience I’m getting as well.”

Another sign Zorn is learning from experience is how he handled his initial coaching staff and team meetings following the game.

Zorn didn’t use the same language Friday even though one assistant coach said the Redskins “were just out there” against the Ravens.

“Jim was probably frustrated because he’s so competitive, and then we get shut out,” another assistant coach said of the news conference.

The team meeting didn’t involve the questioning of effort, but as one assistant said, it “was about corrections and being constructive with our criticism.” But the offensive meeting had an edge to it - Zorn’s way of saying it’s too early to be concerned, but he wants to see more signs of improvement.

“[Zorn] is one of the brutally truthful coaches I’ve played under,” Randle El said. “He’s going to give it to you straight, and you have to deal with it. At the same time, he has the tools to help you deal with it.”

The defense drew Zorn’s ire for giving up 500 yards, but even the starters who played only one series took his words seriously and respect him for his reaction.

“You like seeing that,” safety Chris Horton said. “You want a coach to tell it how it is. No matter how he phrases it, when you hear the word ‘soft,’ it just turns your dial up and tells you you have to come out with more fire.”

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