Commentary

Snyder, Skins appear committed to new approach

The Redskins hired an untested head coach and don't plan to be big players in free agency. Yes, things are changing in Washington, writes Pat Yasinskas.

Originally Published: February 27, 2008
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com

Jim Zorn was talking about quarterback Jason Campbell the other day. The new coach of the Washington Redskins might as well have been talking about himself.

"I don't want Jason Campbell to feel like, 'Oh my gosh, if I make one mistake, I'm going to be pulled,''' Zorn said during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "That's not the way to go into this. That's not the way to go into any camp and it's not the way to go into any football season.''

For a quarterback or a coach. Just ask Steve Spurrier, Marty Schottenheimer, Norv Turner and, to a lesser extent, Joe Gibbs. Since buying the Redskins in 1999, owner Daniel Snyder has had a hand in everything. He's been the George Steinbrenner of the NFL, trying to buy championships and burning through coaches.

But Snyder's hiring of the untested Zorn is a sign things are about to change. The Redskins are going to stand pat.

"It will be a shock to some, but I don't see us being a big player in free agency,'' said Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations. "I don't think Dan's plane's going to be fired up, ready to go. I just think it's going to be a quiet start of free agency for us.''

[+] EnlargeJim Zorn
AP Photo/Jose Luis MaganaNew Redskins coach Jim Zorn appears to have already earned the trust of owner Daniel Snyder.
Quiet, although uncommon for Snyder and the Redskins, will be good. Gibbs, the one coach who had enough power to stand up to Snyder, retired after last season. But he left the Redskins as a playoff team with a roster to match.

In years past, Snyder might have looked at that roster and gone out and added some overpriced veterans to try to put the Redskins instantly into the Super Bowl. In years past, Snyder might have gone out and hired a big-name coach with big plans for change.

Hiring Zorn, who last worked as quarterbacks coach for the Seattle Seahawks, might give the impression that Snyder was looking for a puppet. Snyder's been accused of being a fantasy football player in the past, known for doing what he wants at the expense of his coaches and the team's long-term salary cap. That's led to tension and not much success.

But maybe the combination of Snyder, Cerrato and Zorn is just what the Redskins need. Maybe it's best to have an unknown coach who gets along with the owner and the guy who runs the front office than a big-name coach who doesn't.

The Redskins interviewed a bunch of bigger names before deciding on Zorn, who they first had hired as offensive coordinator.

"When we got done with the interview, Dan and I looked at each other and said, 'You know what? We'll probably have him for one year and, then, he'll be a head coach,''' Cerrato said. "After we would interview everybody, Dan and I would have these conversations afterwards and we would say, 'Jim was better than that' or 'We liked Jim compared to that.'''

For the first time in Snyder's tenure, it seems like the Redskins have a brain trust that's firmly on the same page. And, maybe, Snyder has learned from his past mistakes.

As Zorn spoke, it sure didn't sound like Snyder was pulling his strings. He's only been on the job for a few weeks, but Zorn has Gibbs' staff pretty much intact, a lot of talent and, most importantly, a plan.

The defense already is good and the offense, which will switch to a West Coast approach, has a lot of talent. Zorn said he plans to keep running back Clinton Portis on the field most of the time and use Ladell Betts as a complement. There's a solid tight end in Chris Cooley and Santana Moss is set at one wide receiver spot.

Zorn plans to shift the other receiver, Antwaan Randle El, into the slot and use him in a way that's similar to the way the Seahawks used Bobby Engram last season. The Redskins will look to the draft for a bigger receiver to play the other spot.

But, more than anything, the fate of the Redskins (and Zorn) will depend on Campbell. He's 26 and has made only 20 NFL starts. He showed some progress last season before going down with a late-season injury.

Zorn wasted no time in declaring Campbell the starter over potential free agent Todd Collins, who stepped in late last season and led the Redskins to the playoffs. But Collins, who the Redskins hope to re-sign, is 36. Campbell has much more upside and Zorn has big plans for him.

"I'm surprised how tall he is with how well he moves his feet,'' Zorn said. "I think that's the thing I'm going to work on the most with him, is just his mindset on moving better in the pocket. I don't want him to think about himself only as a drop-back QB. I want him to think of himself as a guy that can move as well.''

Campbell also needs some work in the passing game after throwing 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season. But Zorn sees plenty of room for growth, and his experience as a quarterback mentor should help Campbell.

"I think he's cited that he's had seven offensive coordinators in the years he's played college and the pros,'' Zorn said. "I just say, 'That's the way it goes.' I can't change that. He can't change that. What we can do is not [dwell] on that. We can't use that as a reason he can't do something. He should be able to do a lot of things now. That's the way I look at it, you should be able to do everything now that you've had so many offensive coordinators."

Maybe that's also a lesson for Snyder and the rest of the Redskins. All the other coaches and the meddling from Snyder didn't produce a Super Bowl. Maybe Zorn, who's never called a play as a coach, and Campbell, who's never won a truly big game, are the guys to do it. Maybe all they need is a little time without someone looking over their shoulders.

Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

ALSO SEE