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Zampese Sees 'A New Guy' In Second Stint With Fitzpatrick

Ryan Fitzpatrick fakes a handoff to Antonio Gibson during OTAs. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Ryan Fitzpatrick fakes a handoff to Antonio Gibson during OTAs. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Ryan Fitzpatrick has had plenty of coaches over the course of his 16-year career, but Ken Zampese has the rare distinction of working with him twice.

Fitzpatrick was a completely different player all the way back in 2007 when he was traded by the Rams to the Bengals for a seventh-round pick. Zampese, who was entering his fifth season  as Cincinnati's quarterback coach, saw a player who showed promise but only had three starts in his young career. 

More than a decade later, Fitzpatrick has been around the league a few times and seen some lows and highs in his career. Now he's a seasoned veteran who is known for creating unexpected, spectacular moments. All those experiences have Zampese excited that he gets a second chance to work with the veteran.

"It's like a new guy," Zampese said. "It's been so long since we've been together. Had a great time [during] the first time. The second time around is gonna be good, too. You can see the experience, the different teams he's been with, concepts he's had, coaches that he's had."

Zampese put it best when he said Fitzpatrick has "banging around and bouncing around" the league. Despite all that, the Harvard grad has found a way to be a success. He's the only signal-caller in league history to throw a touchdown for eight teams, and Zampese watched from afar as he became a consummate starter for the Bills, injected energy into the Buccaneers squad and threw for nearly 4,000 yards with the Jets.

Most of Fitzpatrick's destinations have included at least some uncertainty at quarterback. The Titans, who signed Fitzpatrick in 2013, were still figuring out if Jake Locker was their future at the position. The same could be said two years later with Geno Smith and the Jets. Fitzpatrick started out as the backup in both scenarios, and that constant battle of trying to prove himself has created a perseverance that is obvious to Zampese.

"It just makes you sharper when you get to a situation where you might have a few things in place," Zampese said. "I like guys that have been kicked around a little bit. They know what it's like to 'not have,' and so there's a built in hunger when you're living on the edge like that. You always want guys who have that hunger and urgency. And he has it."

Washington is now one of those teams that, as Zampese said, has a few things in place. It has one of the best defenses in the league, and it has overhauled the receiver position by matching Terry McLaurin with Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown. Just take a look at what Fitzpatrick did with the Dolphins, who many view with a similar lens to Washington. He had back-to-back completion rates of at least 62%. He had 33 touchdowns in that two-year span and had more than 5,600 yards -- his third-highest production with one team in his career.

That recent success is exactly why Zampese is so excited to be reunited with Fitzpatrick.

"Most guys go the other way," Zampese said. "I think he has such an extreme desire to excel and to be in the top group of quarterbacks and compete at that level. I think he's ultra competitive, and I think that's what we're seeing when we watch his career get better as it goes on."

The numbers that Fitzpatrick has put up the past two seasons speak for themselves, Zampese said. He acted as the Dolphins' "closer" quarterback as they tried to develop Tua Tagovailoa, but he still delivered some unforgettable plays like completing a deep pass down the sideline against the Las Vegas Raiders with his facemask being jerked to the side. His 2019 stats -- 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns -- were some of the best in his career.

Physically, there's not much about Fitzpatrick that has changed much over the years. His throwing motion is a little better, he said, but not much. His arm strength is still the same. For him, the changes have been more mental after years of running through different schemes and throwing to countless receivers.

"The feel for the game, being able to communicate with my teammates, and then just knowing myself and knowing when I need to pull in the reins a little bit and when I need to let it rip," Fitzpatrick said. "Those are just things I've really learned over the last few years...that have helped me out a lot."

But there are some things that haven't changed about the 38-year-old quarterback. Zampese still sees how much Fitzpatrick cares about his dedication to being a cerebral player. That gunslinger mentality is there as well, although the risks are more calculated now. It took 12 years for Zampese to work with him again, but all the polishing and fine-tuning Fitzpatrick has experienced along the way is worth it.

"I just knew he could bring that here," Zampese said.