Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jim Zorn's Transition To The West Coast Is Still Surfing Turbulent Waters

Jim Zorn had a bumpy ride in the 2008 NFL season, his first as head coach of the Washington Redskins. The team finished at 8-8, and Zorn's highlight was being the first Redskins coach since Hall Of Famer George Allen to win his initial game in Dallas versus the Cowboys.

Zorn being hired as head coach was a surprise in the first place. He has been an assistant coach in the NFL since 1997, but he is best known as the first quarterback in the history of the Seattle Seahawks franchise. He is also a member of the Seahawks Ring Of Honor.

After his playing career ended in 1987, he immediately went into coaching in Division 1A college football. He coached with three different schools before joining the Seahawks as an assistant coach. That team was coached by Dennis Erickson, a coach who specializes in the spread offense.

After leaving Seattle in 1998, he joined Bobby Ross with the Detroit Lions the next season. He served as the quarterbacks coach, and left the team after the following season to rejoin the Seahawks. There, he coached under Mike Holmgren for seven seasons.

Zorn is said to be a proponent of the West Coast offensive system, which Holmgren had learned under Hall Of Fame coach Bill Walsh in San Francisco. When Zorn played, he spent most of his career playing under head coach Jack Patera. Patera ran an offense that passed the ball most of the time, and to some success.

When Hall Of Fame coach Joe Gibbs suddenly retired before the 2007 season, to concentrate on his personal life, he left behind a roster molded to his style of play. Zorn faced a tremendous challenge of trying to implement his offensive theories with a personnel not familiar with that style of play.

Though the Redskins got off to a fast start, with a 6-2 record, injuries hit the team and ended their hopes.

Redskins starting quarterback Jason Campbell had a set a Redskins record of consecutive passes without an interception to start a season, and just missed the NFL record by forty attempts. He also set career high marks in virtually every passing category.

Campbell was also sacked a career high 38 times, which is not a conducive statistic for success under the West Coast system. Many know that Campbell has had to learn six offensive systems in his last six years of football, which includes college.

This year marks the first time that Jason will play in the same system for two straight years since his sophomore year in college.

That was purported to have almost not have occurred, because the media claimed the Redskins held interests in other quarterbacks. They were said to be a player in the Jay Cutler sweepstakes, before Cutler landed in Chicago.

Washington also supposedly wanted to trade up in the 2009 NFL Draft and grab Mark Sanchez of the University of Southern California. Sanchez ended up being drafted by the New York Jets instead.

Though Zorn has recently stated he wants Campbell to be the Redskins quarterback, these recent moves prove otherwise if they are true. The question remains if the pressure is more on Campbell or Zorn to produce in 2009.

The Redskins current roster has many offensive players built towards the power running game that Gibbs wanted. Clinton Portis is the teams main running back, though he hasn't been able to stay healthy an entire season since 2005. In order for Portis to be at his best, he requires over twenty carries per game.

The backups are a mix of proven and unproven types. Ladell Betts ran for 1,154 yards in the Redskins 2005 season, but has battled his own injury issues throughout his seven years in the NFL. Betts might be the teams best receiving threat out of the backfield as well.

The rest of the group consists of Rock Cartwright, the teams kick returner, and two free agents. Marcus Mason is a local man who made the team in 2007 for a short time, and has been on the Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, and New York Jets practice squads since.

Anthony Alridge spent his 2008 rookie season on the Denver Broncos injured reserve list. Alridge might fit a West Coast scheme best out of the group, but the diminutive back will have an uphill climb to prove his worth as a receiver and possibly as a return specialist.

The teams main passing weapon the past four seasons has been tight end Chris Cooley. Cooley, a three time Pro Bowler, is the only tight end in NFL history to have at least six touchdown receptions in his four seasons.

Despite all of his success, and the fact he is a fan favorite, the Redskins used a second round draft pick on tight end Fred Davis in 2008. Davis contributed three receptions in his rookie year.

What Zorn's plans are for Davis is as baffling and unclear as the selection of him in the first place. Cooley is just 26 years old, and appears headed to Canton at his current pace. If the Redskins plan to use Davis more, it has yet to been seen how.

The Redskins main wide receivers are Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El. Moss is known for good speed, but unreliable hands. Randle El is a small, quick type, and best projects doing his most effective work in the slot. Washington recently signed Roydell Williams, who had been inconsistent in his three years with the Tennessee Titans.

The Redskins also drafted two wide receivers in 2008. Devin Thomas was the teams top draft choice, and showed promise with 15 receptions. The other was Malcolm Kelly. Kelly was only able to give Washington three receptions, and was considered a disappointment by many fans.

The Redskins also drafted Marko Mitchell this year, in the seventh round, but the tall wide receiver is considered a raw prospect with good athleticism.

Though Zorn has obviously drafted some players he feels fits his scheme, none are key members of the team. Thomas has been the only one to show any promise thus far, so the onus will be on Davis and Kelly to step up their games this year to prove Zorn was right about them.

The West Coast scheme is a system that relies on finesse. It appears it will take Zorn years to get those types of players, something hard to fathom his will have with team owner Dan Snyder. Snyder has gone through six coaches in the ten years he has owned the Redskins.

Snyder is obviously gambling that Zorn is going to be another of those shiny acorns that has fallen off of the Bill Walsh tree. The list of successful coaches from that tree is long and legendary. Many have won Super Bowls.

If it doesn't, the Redskins may have hired themselves another Marty Mornhinweg. Mornhinweg is considered one of the dull acorns that fell of the Walsh tree. He lasted two seasons in Detroit, winning five games total.

There is an expression that a coach needs three years to show whether or not his system fits best for the franchise that employs him. This year, being Zorn's second, may determine if that theory holds true.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Chat With Edwin Williams Of The Washington Redskins

Edwin Williams is an undrafted rookie attempting to make the roster of the 2009 Washington Redskins. Williams was eyed by the Redskins since before the draft, so he has an excellent chance on helping the Redskins for many years to come.

Edwin was born and raised in the Washington D.C. He is very family-oriented, and is religious. His journey to the Redskins almost never happened, because basketball used to be his first love.

He attended DeMatha High School. Though the program has a rich history on the gridiron, the school is known throughout the world for having a top-notch basketball program. Edwin joined the freshman football team, and began to see his potential in the sport.

Williams began to work really hard at his game in his sophomore year. Dematha’s head football coach Bill McGregor asked Edwin to quit basketball in order to concentrate on football full-time.

Weighing 255 pounds then, Edwin then put on an additional forty pounds of weight from his junior year to his senior year. By then, he was getting offers from dozens of colleges across the country.

Edwin chose to go to college at the University of Maryland. The Terrapin were a team already full of pro prospects. Men like Jared Gaither, Andrew Crummey, and fellow Redskin Stephon Heyer all are in the NFL right now, as are several Terrapin linemen from years past.

After redshirting his freshman year, Edwin got in on 10 games his first year at Maryland by splitting time with the starter Ryan McDonald. He earned the starting job as a sophomore, and started 39 consecutive games until he graduated with honors.

He was a two time Academic All American, and a recipient of the 2008 Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Recognition Award.

When did you first start getting interested in football?

Edwin : “I was always a big kid. Bigger than most my age. My dad tried to get me to play Pee Wee football as a kid, but the coaches said I had to play with others much older than me because of my size. I didn’t play again until high school.”

What made you try out then?

Edwin : “Most of my friends played, and I was bigger and stronger than most. I went to DeMatha to play basketball. I figured if I got cut or hurt in my freshman year, I would never play again.”

Did you grow up a fan of the Redskins?

Edwin : “Yes I did. I followed them, and knew of ‘The Hogs’, and all of the Super Bowl wins they had.”

When were you first aware the Redskins were interested in you?

Edwin : “I hadn’t really been following the 2009 NFL Draft, but then several teams started calling me around the fourth round of the draft. The Redskins called me somewhere in the fifth or sixth round and told me to watch the draft, so I did.”

What is it like to be a member of the Redskins family right now?

“It is a dream come true for me, having been a fan of the team. I am so impressed by the team and their coaches. I have a lot of work to do, in order to get better, but I feel I am on the right team.”

Two of your college teammates, Stephon Heyer and Kevin Barnes, are Redskins. What is this like? Could any of you envisioned this happening?

Edwin : “No, we never could have foreseen this ever. It is really a great happening, especially with Stephon. Not only do we have the same agent, but he is a mentor of mine. In college, he used to always give me pointers and insights with technique. He is really smart, a leader, and an excellent teacher. He knows a lot more than many people realize.”

How does it feel knowing you get to learn from Joe Bugel, one of the best offensive line coaches in NFL history?

Edwin : I first met him at the combine. I was stunned, because I knew who he was and what he has achieved. He took time out to tell me he was impressed with me at the combine, and that meant a lot. Knowing that I will be learning from him is fantastic!”

What have you learned about the veteran offensive linemen in practice thus far?

Edwin : “Not only are they extraordinary athletes, but they are also ordinary men. I understand people tend to put them on a pedestal. I know how great Chris Cooley, Chris Samuels, Randy Thomas, and Jon Jansen are as players. I have known about Jansen since I was in middle school.

What I have come to realize is that they are family men, and they are doing their very best to provide for their loved ones. They are also very kind, and have given me pointers in camp. As a unit, they are flawless, and are the best guys on and off the field as individuals.”

How has camp gone so far for you?

Edwin : I am happy, and even have put in more reps than I expected. It feels great when Vinny Cerrato comes up to me and says I’m doing well. I know I have a lot more to learn, so I have to continue always giving my all every moment I can.”

What have you learned thus far about the Redskins offensive system?

Edwin : “They run a similar system to what I played in college. The blocking designs are very close to one another, since both run the West Coast system. Some plays, in fact, are the same. Casey Rabach, the starting center, has been helping me too.”

The Redskins are well known to hold practices in front of the public. Since you are a local man, do you look forward to this?

Edwin : “Yes I do. I am sure many of my family and friends will consider attending, but I have a job to accomplish. I can always see family after practice, because I live about five minutes from where we practice. My goal is to try to help the team win, but I think it is great Mr. Snyder allows the fans see the team practice.”

I would like to thank Edwin Williams for his time, and wish him nothing but the best. The Redskins have themselves a very smart, grounded, and intense leader. Hopefully Edwin will always stay healthy and happy. I am certain he will help the Redskins for many years, and this hometown hero has everything you look for in an NFL player.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Boss Hog Keeps Rolling

When Joe Gibbs was able to coax Joe Bugel out of a three year retirement, Redskins fans everywhere shouted with glee. The Boss Hog had left the team in 1990, and was missed by every Redskins fan since

Though Gibbs left the team after the 2007 season, Bugel has decided to stay with Washington. This was a very lucky happening for the Redskins, and Dan Snyder must be applauded if he increased Bugel's salary to get him to stay.

Bugel is well known for his exploits an an NFL coach, but his journey to get to this point is also very interesting. Like many NFL coaches, Bugel had to pay his dues for several years as he learned his trade. His journey has led him to jobs with eleven teams in his 45 years in coaching.

Joe got his first coaching job at his alma mater, Western Kentucky University, the year after he graduated in 1964. He stayed at the school until 1968, moving his way up the coaching ladder. In a school that has produced just 17 NFL players in their history, Bugel was a coach of Dale Lindsey. Lindsey played nine years in the NFL, tied for the most years played by a player from the school.

In 1969, Bugel got a job with the United States Naval Academy to coach. One of the coaches on the staff was Steve Belichick, the father of current New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. He stayed with the team until moving to Iowa State University for the 1973 season.

The Iowa State team had several future NFL players on their team that year. Matt Blair, Keith Krepfle, Mike Stachan, Dave McCurry, Barry Hill, Dean Carlson, Tommy Campbell, and Randy Young all would go on to play at least one year in the league. Joe only coached there one year, because he would get a job at Ohio State University for the 1974 season.

While there his only season with the school, Joe helped develop an Buckeyes offensive line that saw three guards drafted into the NFL the next year. One of them was John Hicks, a guard who was the third pick in the entire 1975 draft. The line also had two more players who later would be selected in the first round in their draft years, Doug France and Kurt Schumacher.

This offensive line would help pave the way for Archie Griffin to win the first of his two Heisman Trophy Awards in 1974. Archie would gain 1,620 yards rushing that year, the most in his illustrious career. Though Ohio State lost to USC, in one of the most exciting games in Rose Bowl history, Bugel's work had gained the attention of the NFL.

The Detroit Lions hired Bugel for the 1975 season. Though the Lions used two of their first three picks on offensive linemen, the team was largely unsuccessful that season. They used three quarterbacks, and finished with a 7-7 record. Bugel was able to coax the Lions rushing game to accumulating the ninth most yards rushing in the league that year.

Detroit had two picks in both the first and third rounds the next year. One first round pick was used on fullback Lawrence Gaines, and Russ Bollinger was a guard drafted in the third round. Detroit replaced their head coach after the fourth game, and finished 6-9 for the season. One of the assistant coaches on the team was Bill Belichick.

Bugel was able to get the running game to be their best weapon. Gaines had the best season of his career, gaining 659 yards rushing, and Dexter Bussey led the team with 858 yards rushing. The job Bugel did in Detroit got him noticed by Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips.

Houston concentrated on their blocking for the first four rounds on the 1977 draft. Their first pick was offensive Tackle Morris Towns. Towns only played one game that season, but would start for Houston the next six seasons. He would later reunite with Bugel in Washington for four games in the 1984 season.

Their second round pick was on guard George Riehner, but his career was cut short from injuries after 27 games over four years. Houston had three picks in the third round, and drafted fullback Tim Wilson, tight end Jimmie Giles, and fullback Rob Capenter. Wilson became the best blocking fullback in the league, and Giles would be traded to Tampa Bay after one season. While at Tampa Bay, Giles would go to the Pro Bowl three times. Carpenter had a very good career, helping the Oilers win a playoff game in 1979.

The Oilers rushing attack was led by Carpenter and halfback Ronnie Coleman, along with center Carl Mauck. Houston would finish 8-6, and have the fifth highest scoring team in the league that year.

Business began to pick up in 1978, when the Oilers drafted local hero Earl Campbell in the first round. Another good pick was their last pick in the 12th round, guard John Schuhmacher. Campbell became a Hall Of Fame running back, and Schuhmacher would start for most of his six years with the Oilers.

Campbell helped lead the Oilers to a 10-6 record, as the Oilers made it to the AFC Championship game. They would end up losing the game to the eventual world champion Pittsburgh Steelers. This would begin an era in Houston, where the slogan was "Love Ya Blue", in honor of the teams home colors.

Houston then went out and got two time All Po offensive tackle Leon Gray, for the 1979 season, from New England. Gray was entering his prime, and would be named an All Pro the next three years. This allowed the Oilers to reach the AFC Championship again, where they would lose again to the Steelers.

That playoff run is most noted for the fact Campbell and starting quarterback Dan Pastorini were hurt in the first round playoff victory against the Denver Broncos. Houston would beat the San Diego Chargers the next round relying on ball control with reserves.

The Oilers then went out and acquired two time All Pro guard Bob Young before the 1980 season. Young was 38 years old, but was one of the strongest men in the league. The also traded for Hall Of Fame tight end Dave Casper after the sixth game of the season. The moves helped Campbell gain a career best 1,934 yards, as Houston won their division. They then lost to the Oakland Raiders in the first playoff game.

Bugel then left the Oilers to join a rookie head coach named Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins. The Redskins had a very young offensive line, featuring four rookies and a second year center. Two of the players were undrafted. Bugel took on this challenge, and molded one of the greatest offensive lines in NFL history.

One day in practice, Bugel called the linemen "a bunch of hogs". The name stuck, and "The Hogs" became a legendary name in the NFL. The group would lead the Redskins to a Super Bowl win in 1982, and another Super Bowl appearance the following year.

One of the most famous moments in Redskins history involved Bugel. It was fourth and one on the Miami Dolphin 43-yard line in Super Bowl XVII. It was the fourth quarter, and Washington trailed by three points.

Gibbs conferred with his assistants, and decided to go for it. Bugel implored his offensive line to open up a hole for Hall Of Fame running back John Riggins. The Hogs complied, as a huge hole was opened up by Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby. Riggins ran several yards untouched, then plowed through a defensive back on his way for the winning touchdown.

The Redskins would win the Super Bowl again in 1987, but this season was just another example of how good a coach Joe Bugel is. The original "Hogs" still had four members, but with changes. Mark May was originally a guard, but now was playing tackle. Washington got former All Pro R.C. Thielemann to play guard. Jeff Bostic, the starting center, was hurt and only played in seven games. His replacement was All Pro guard Russ Grimm, whose guard spot was filled by Raleigh McKenzie. McKenzie was a perfect Bugel project, having been drafted in the 11th round in 1985.

Joe Bugel left the Redskins after the 1989 season to become head coach for the Arizona Cardinals. His time in Arizona was difficult. His teams won 20 games in four years, and they would have a different quarterback in each of those years. Though the Cardinals went 7-9 in 1993, their best record since 1988, Bugel was fired and replaced by Buddy Ryan.

After Bugel took a year off from football in 1994, he joined the Oakland Raiders the next season. He was promoted to head coach in 1997, and Tim Brown had a career best 104 receptions that year. Running back Napoleon Kaufman had career highs with 1,294 yards and 40 receptions. The team also featured All Pro guard Steve Wisniewski. Oakland finished the season 4-12, and Bugel was replaced by Jon Gruden.

Bugel was asked to join a rebuilding San Diego Chargers for the 1998 season. He coached a line mixed with veterans and rookies, including his reuniting with McKenzie. The Chargers fired head coach Kevin Gilbride after six games, and replaced him with June Jones. San Diego finished the season 5-11.

Mike Riley was hired as head coach for 1999, and San Diego went 8-8, which was followed by just one win the next season. San Diego then finished the 2001 season with 5 wins. The season was the first for running back LaDanian Tomlinson, who ran behind a line that had four starters with three or less years of experience.

Bugel then retired from football until Gibbs asked him to return to the Redskins for the 2004 season. Since then, Bugel has called his blockers "The Dirtbags". They have dealt with injuries, but are a very talented group. Bugel has also been coaching up a group of youngsters to replace the veterans when that time comes. One of his most noted pupils is an undrafted player by the name of Stephon Heyer. Heyer is expected to push for a starting job this year.

All of this has been done with Bugel's own personal loss. His daughter passed away last year, and Bugel threw himself into his work to make the team better. This work is being shown with such promising youngsters like Heyer, Chad Rinehart, Edwin Williams, Devin Clark, Rueben Riley, Will Montgomery, D'Anthony Batiste, and Scott Burley. Joe will have to sift through this talented group to decide which players make the team.

This is a lovely issue the Redskins have not had at the offensive line positions since Jim Hanifan's time as the offensive line coach in the early nineties. The Redskins have not had much success since that time either, which is no coincidence.

Bugel's influence was seen in last years Super Bowl run by the Arizona Cardinals. One of his disciples is current offensive line coach Russ Grimm, a former Hog. Grimm has also been on the cusp of being hired as a head coach by several teams that last few years.

The Redskins are lucky to have the master on their team. This year is just another stepping stone in of Joe Bugel's greatness. How many more steps he will take in the NFL remains to be seen, but he is teaching a group of blockers that all fans hope have the same long reverberations like the Hogs do.