At the 2005 NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Jim Zorn, then the Seattle Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach, sought out Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell after workouts one day at the RCA Dome.
Zorn was among the assistant coaches who were evaluating players, and he had something important to tell Campbell, whom the Washington Redskins would select in the first round of the draft.
“I knew Seattle wasn’t taking me because they had Matt Hasselbeck, but he was saying all this nice stuff to me,” Campbell said Friday after the first practice of minicamp at Redskins Park. “Here he is giving me all this time, telling me about what I could accomplish with the talent I have, and he didn’t have to do that because I’m not going there. He just came off as a real nice guy, and it really teaches you that first impressions are everything. I know it’s going to work out with coach Zorn here because I’ve known for a long time what type of person he is.”
In starting their only minicamp of the offseason, the Redskins and Zorn took another step out of Joe Gibbs’s shadow. Zorn began to install his version of the West Coast offense this weekend, replacing the timing-based scheme the Redskins used the last two seasons under Gibbs with an approach that is predicated on the quarterback developing a rhythm by completing short passes.
The Redskins ran several plays featuring three- and four-receiver sets, indicating that Zorn plans to open up the offense. Although Zorn received high marks from many veterans Friday, his relationship with Campbell is considered vital to the team’s success. A teacher first, Zorn is credited with helping Hasselbeck develop into a Pro Bowl player, and owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, Washington’s executive vice president of football operations, are expecting big things from the partnership.
“Everyone knows Jim’s reputation for developing quarterbacks, and Jason is a talented, young quarterback,” Cerrato said recently. “That sounds like a pretty good combination to me.”
Campbell and Zorn have been working together since the Redskins began their voluntary offseason workout program on March 17. Until minicamp, Zorn, also Washington’s quarterbacks coach and play-caller, and offensive assistant Chris Meidt, who has worked closely with Washington’s quarterbacks, had focused on the passing mechanics of Campbell, backup Todd Collins and Sam Hollenbach, who is competing for the No. 3 job.
“It’s not like they just came out today, so they’ve been getting on the same page,” wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said of Zorn and Campbell. “Zorn’s real good with quarterbacks, just with some of the techniques that I’ve seen him teach, and that’s helped Jason.”
Zorn’s focus shifted from teaching technique to teaching plays after offensive players received an abbreviated version of the playbook before practice.
“It’s on now,” Campbell said. “We really didn’t get into the offense too much before (minicamp), but that’s what we’re doing now. It’s a great offense and it’s not a real hard offense to learn. There’s a lot of key things that you have to keep in mind, as far as technique-wise, reading coverages and getting the ball out of your hand fast. That’s the main thing about this offense.”
The pass-oriented offense of former play-caller Al Saunders was predicated on timing. Quarterbacks threw to spots before receivers completed their routes, and receivers, in theory, were supposed to make big gains after catching balls in stride. Timing is a component of Zorn’s offense as well, “but the drops of the quarterback are totally different. It’s like night and day,” Campbell said. “Last year, we took really, really quick steps and get back. Where this year, we may spread our steps out a little bit more. And I know I’ve said this before, but the pace is so much faster. Coach Zorn wants you to play at a faster speed than you’ve ever played before.”
When Washington changed to a West Coast offense, observers speculated that the move would be difficult for Campbell, who has been in eight offensive systems in nine seasons. But Campbell played in a West Coast offense while leading Auburn to a 13-0 record and being selected as the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year.
“I’m not worried about it,” Campbell said. “I know other people might be (worried), but I know what I can do and I think Coach Zorn does, too. He’s just like me. He doesn’t make a big deal out of it and I don’t. Of course, any quarterback would want to be in the same offense their whole career, but that’s not the way it’s been for me for whatever reason. I just have to take it every time and run with it.
“You just have to adapt, change and move forward. And at this point, it’s either you make it in order to continue your career and have a successful career, or you won’t have one. This is my job. This is what I have to do. There’s no other way around it. I don’t have time to sit at home and say, ‘I wish we were still in this offense or that offense.’ I don’t have time for that.”
Zorn seemed to be satisfied with Campbell’s start in minicamp. “There was a pattern where he looked to one side and it was covered, then he looked over the middle, it was covered, and then he turned all the way around and hit the back coming out the other side,” Zorn said. “Those are the kinds of things that you put in on the board, talk about it in a position meeting and then you hope it gets executed out there. Nobody set it up for him; he just did it. That is when you know that the playbook, all the talk and all the stuff that we do connects with the player.”
Of course, there will be many stages to this process, Zorn said, and Campbell has only started. But Campbell has proven to Zorn he is committed to the new offense, and Zorn said he is committed to Campbell.
“Todd Collins, who lit it for the last quarter of (last) year for the Redskins, who got ‘em to the playoffs when Jason was out (with a dislocated left kneecap), I told him right off the bat (after becoming head coach) on the telephone, ‘Jason is our starter,’ ” Zorn said. “He heard it from me personally and that’s what I told the press.
“I didn’t want to disappoint him, or take away from the competition, I just really wanted him to know the way it was. Jason knows he’s the starter, the (offensive) line knows that he’s the starter and there’s no question. I think there’s something to be said for that.”