Commentary

Campbell, Zorn face intriguing season

Originally Published: August 17, 2009
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN

ASHBURN, Va. -- Neither Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn nor quarterback Jason Campbell appears intimidated by the truth of the 2009 season.

The truth is, Zorn has some coaching giants lurking over him with Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren and Bill Cowher available to return to the sidelines. Meanwhile, Campbell was slapped square in the face with the news that the Redskins pursued Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez as his potential replacements this past offseason.

"The main thing is, I didn't want to overreact. I wanted to be mature about it and I didn't want to take it personally," said Campbell. "Coach believes I have what it takes to be an All-Pro quarterback, but this is a team game. I want to get better, I expect to get better and I expect us to win."

So when Zorn used the word "soft" to describe his team's performance in a 23-0 preseason-opening loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Campbell believes it would be wise for his teammates to heed the coach's words.

"He wants a different approach," Campbell said of Zorn. "He was not speaking to everybody but at the same time, if you are speaking to one, you are speaking to all. That is the approach we are taking. We are one group, one camp. We've got to pick each other up and come out and compete. Whether it is preseason or regular season, we have to go out there and give our best."

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell & Jim Zorn
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisQB Jason Campbell (17) and coach Jim Zorn's fates might be united.

Zorn smiled when asked privately about his adjective. He used it only with the media, not to his team in the locker room.

"You know, I was speaking about some technical things that happened in the game, like one of our corners who backed off on a slant pass when I've seen him do it right out here on the practice field," the coach said. "But if the team got a different message from what I said, that's a good thing, too."

Zorn is in only his second year on the job in what was one of owner Daniel Snyder's classic gut-calls. And it all seemed good for the first half of the 2008 season when the Redskins jumped to a 6-2 record, but they finished 2-6 in the season's second half. The team did have significant injuries, especially along the offensive line, and while Campbell had a respectable season (3,245 yards passing, 62.3 completion percentage), he hit some speed bumps.

"Yeah, but it was his first year in this offense," said Zorn. "He's soooo much better right now. He's not thinking when a play call comes in. He's not worried about his drops, his footwork on a certain play ... all the things that go into playing at a high level in this league at quarterback. He doesn't worry about it now.

"He can make sure our young receivers are lined up right now instead of [only worrying about] what he's doing. He's in control at the line of scrimmage. His release -- we shortened it up -- is much quicker and he's got himself a pretty good arm."

Campbell really showed his coach how far he's come in that so-called "soft" preseason game against the Ravens.

"On the first play last year, when we started out in the regular season, he stared a guy down, took more time to stare him down even more, and then got sacked staring him down," said Zorn.

"This game was a start where he looked at his first progression and then ended up throwing to his fourth progression on the route for a first down. That tells a lot right there concerning how far Jason has come."

And is either guy worried about his job security?

"Coach told me to just go have fun," said Campbell. "That's what I'm going to do and I think that's what he's going to do, too."

Here's what else I learned at Redskins camp, the 16th stop on my training camp bus tour:

  • Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, the biggest free-agent acquisition of the offseason, didn't play in the opening preseason game because of injury. He said he would have been able to play if it were a regular-season game.

  • The Redskins are beaming about first-round pick Brian Orakpo, who is being used as a defensive end and linebacker. They believe that with Haynesworth and Orakpo, star-studded NFC East quarterbacks Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning and Tony Romo will finally have to fear their pass rush.

  • Redskins executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato is confident the team made the right move in re-signing cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

    "I see maturity," said Cerrato. "I see a very talented guy who has become a leader; he's the guy making sure the young ones do things right."

  • Then there's middle linebacker London Fletcher, a 13-year veteran who is the heart, soul and brains of the defense. Fletcher, who expressed frustration last December when he was snubbed again for the Pro Bowl, said, "That wasn't me. That was some guy who didn't get much sleep the night before and woke up cranky."

    Fletcher did laugh when it was suggested that maybe this is the year he'll make the Pro Bowl, only not be eligible to play if the Redskins play in the Super Bowl.

    "I'll take that," said Fletcher, realizing that the Pro Bowl will be played the week before the Super Bowl in Miami after the season.

  • The Redskins were quietly hoping that second-year quarterback Colt Brennan would made enough progress to secure the No. 2 job behind Jason Campbell. That appears unlikely now, so 15-year vet Todd Collins will remain the backup, barring a dramatic development.

  • Offensive line improvement could come if Chad Rinehart, a second-year guard from Northern Iowa, wins a starting job.

    Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.