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Zorn Establishes His Presence At Mini-Camp


From Chris Samuels to London Fletcher, the Redskins are expected to field a veteran team on both sides of the ball in 2008. Even starting quarterback Jason Campbell has 20 NFL starts under his belt.

So first-time head coach Jim Zorn entered the Redskins' May 2-4 mini-camp looking to establish an air of authority and leadership among players who have been there, done that.

On the first day of mini-camp, 10-year veteran Shawn Springs pulled in an interception and then raced up-field looking for blockers. He flipped the ball to Fred Smoot who was running along-side him.

Smoot lost control of the lateral and there was a scramble until the play was whistled over.

Zorn raced in.

"Don't do that, don't do that," he yelled. "Don't mess around like that."

Message sent.

Not even Springs, who played for Zorn in Seattle from 2001-03, would be immune from disapproval from a first-time head coach.

Now that Zorn has started to establish a tone and an identity, he can step back and assess his team after the mini-camp.

"It was excellent," he said. "I think what was great about it is the coaches did a wonderful job taking a lot of responsibility and putting it all together on the practice field."

The team hosted five practices, two on Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday morning.

Most of the practices, the defense dominated in 9-on-9 and 11-on-11 drills.

Makes sense. Zorn is installing a new offense this offseason and players are just starting to learn their new plays.

It will take time for the offense to get into rhythm.

"I think we just scratched the surface [in the passing game]," Zorn said. "We have a little bit of a foundation. I think the offensive line is much further on because they have been here. Again, the run game is much further along than the passing game.

"The guys know what the routes are and they know how it is supposed to look, but now we have to do it very fast. We are not doing it fast yet."

Also as part of his first mini-camp, Zorn installed several new rules for Redskins practices.

Zorn has instituted several new rules to Redskins practices, many of which he brought with him from Seattle. He called some of them "Seahawk-instigated ideas."

For one, you can bet that coaches and players will heed Jim Zorn on his 15-yard rule starting every practice.

Twice on Friday, Zorn had to admonish coaches and players for standing to close to the line of scrimmage on practice plays. He insists that they stand back 15 yards.

"It gives the players a sense that they're actually out on the field by themselves," Zorn said. "And it gives the coaches a full view of the whole play. And it's also a safety issue. When we have a quarterback scrambling, I want them to be able to scramble and not worry about running into an O-line coach, or a tight ends coach."

Another wrinkle to practices: there's a burgundy line about 10 yards in-field. It travels the length of the football fields.

"It's just a tool for the offense and defense," Zorn explained. "It is for the quarterbacks and receivers. When the receiver is running, it is an indication of saving room in case he has to fade into the sideline. It is an indication not to get squeezed into the sideline.

"That burgundy line is an opportunity for us to know where we really want to be when that ball is thrown deep down the field. It is for go routes.

"It really wasn't my idea, I just brought it here. Our offensive coordinator in Seattle used that when he was coaching and it really made a difference for us, so I brought it here. It will make a difference with our quarterbacks and receivers."

What else did Zorn bring from Seattle? Some clever drills, especially for quarterbacks.

In one, a quarterback stood in the center of the field, surrounded by three other QBs and two coaches. Two giant silver Pilates ball were tossed at the quarterback, in rapid succession.

The drill required the quarterback to keep both hands on the ball and maintain proper footwork, all while avoiding the silver ball thrown at him.

Explained Zorn: "I just call it dodge ball. We're trying to get the QB to move his feet. With those big balls, he actually has to move out of the way. And sometimes that's what it feels like in the pocket.

"You're looking downfield, but you can feel something coming at you and you actually have to get out of the way. It helps them work on their footwork and get out of the way of the oncoming rush."

Zorn likes to keep it fun on the practice fields.

"I think one of the things it does is that it keeps things interesting," Zorn said. "It's not expected. I have all kinds of little drills."

Zorn's "Slip 'n' Slide" drill for quarterbacks is on the way, he promised. That helps QBs practice sliding to avoid hard hits as tacklers approach.

No matter the drill, Zorn wanted to make sure players gave "maximum effort" during mini-camp.

He spoke several times of players "finishing" plays strong, using a catch by Anthony Mix last Friday as an example.

Despite good coverage, Mix was able to grab the ball, bobble it, and still come down with it.

"My expectations have been surpassed as far as the effort and really the attention that these guys are giving when it comes to finishing plays, when it comes to maximum effort, going at the pace we want them to go out," Zorn said.

"It is just a matter of time as we learn our assignments. Those are the things that take a long time, especially for the offensive group, wide receivers in different places, personnel groups coming in and out. So it is just going to take some time."

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