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.

1 comment:

afrankangle said...

Scheme is one thing ... yet having players that fit the scheme is another. Given Mr. Snyder's track record, one must wonder will he upset the scheme? Will he insist (and sign) high-profile players that don't fit the scheme? When will he fire Zorn?

Good luck Redskin fans. Good news though .... as much as you may struggle, you have a long way to match our futility in Cincinnati.