NFL: No rookie nerves for Zorn
By Joseph White
ASHBURN, Va. ó Well, that was a promising start. Rookie coach Jim Zorn’s quarterbacks went 19-for-22 in his sideline debut with the Washington Redskins. His team committed just four penalties and sustained only two injuries, both apparently minor.
Apparently, he never got the memo that exhibition games were supposed to be plodding and sloppy.
“I hope everybody would realize that I don’t think that we can just take the week off, and that, ‘Gosh, we got it made now everybody!”‘ Zorn said with a wink while flashing a satirical “thumbs-up” sign during his Monday news conference. “That was a start. It’s going to get tougher and tougher down the road.”
Even so, Sunday night’s 30-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the Hall of Fame game was about as good as anyone could expect from a franchise launching a new era. Zorn appeared polished and composed on the sidelines, a change of pace from his perpetual bundle-of-nerves predecessor, Joe Gibbs. The only unexpected duty, Zorn said, was all the paperwork concerning team captains, helmet transmitters and such that a coach has to turn in to game officials before kickoff.
By the time Zorn arrived for his midday news conference ó promptly at the scheduled time, by the way, another change from the Gibbs days ó he had already watched the tape of the offense twice and the defense once, even though the team had arrived in Washington from Canton, Ohio, well after midnight.
Zorn’s specialty is the quarterback position, and numbers left little room for criticism. Jason Campbell went 5-for-5 with a touchdown. Todd Collins was 5-for-6. Rookie Colt Brennan went 9-for-10 with two touchdowns.
But, thanks to the modern magic of the rewind, pause and slow-motion buttons, Zorn found plenty that wasn’t perfect.
“The majority of it was what we wanted,” he said. “The quarterbacks were trying to throw on rhythm. The receivers were trying to get to their spots with efficiency, running hard. I thought the efforts were good.”
Brennan had the flashiest plays, including a nice scramble that turned into a 5-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Mason, but Zorn said the rookie from Hawaii made “risky throws” and is still coming to grips with the demanding tempo of the West Coast offense.
“I thought Colt Brennan was the least of the quarterbacks who got the tempo up,” Zorn said. “He would come up a little bit too slow for me. I thought Todd did a wonderful job, pressing the tempo. I thought Jason was steady. I want him to go even faster.”
The obvious sobering reality is that the game was a typical first-week exhibition. The starters didn’t play much; some didn’t play at all. Many people on the field in the second half won’t be on an NFL roster come opening day.
The last rookie coach to have such an auspicious start in Washington was Steve Spurrier, who won his first preseason game 38-7 in an American Bowl in Osaka, Japan, in 2002. The rest of the year was downhill from there as the Redskins finished 7-9.
Other highlights from Zorn’s news conference:
– Asked about the large contingent of Redskins fans at the game, Zorn again poked fun at himself for his infamous team colors gaffe ó “maroon and black” ó at his introductory news conference in January.
“It was like having a home game. There was a lot of burgundy,” he said, pausing slightly for dramatic emphasis, “in the audience. Right?”
– On the decision to let rookie Durant Brooks handle all the punting duties: “We wanted to see if he could handle a whole game, see how he would react. I thought he did really well. There were no shanks.”
Brooks, who is challenging incumbent Derrick Frost, punted four times for a 46-yard average and a 34-yard net.
– Zorn said special teams coach Danny Smith anticipated the Colts’ onside kickoff that started the game because Indianapolis tried the same ploy against a rookie coach a few years ago. The Redskins recovered and needed only three plays to score.
“I was kind of excited,” Zorn said, “we had a short field.”
– Unlike Gibbs, Zorn doesn’t plan on rewarding players with parking spaces for the entire season for just one good performance. Gibbs would bestow the honor to anyone chosen as the offensive, defensive or special teams player after a victory.
“We won’t enshrine them for having one good game,” Zorn said.
– Two backup tackles were injured. Zorn said the initial word is that Stephon Heyer’s sprained knee is “very minor.” The coach was awaiting word on the severity of Todd Wade’s sprained ankle.