<span style="">It's a whole new ballgame for the 2008 Washington Redskins.
Head Coach Jim Zorn, the former great quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, has taken over for the legendary Joe Gibbs at the helm of the Redskins. The honestly refreshing Zorn has been well received in The Nation's Capital, as one unnamed players was recently quoted in Pro Football Weekly as saying, "I liked Joe (Gibbs), but I really like Coach Zorn. I want to play as well as I can for a lot of reasons – I want to win. But I want him to succeed so he's here. I really like him as a coach. I like his offense, and I like the way he deals with us."
Zorn, the former quarterbacks coach for the Seahawks, was named the Redskins' coach after an extensive head coach search process. Zorn had already been hired by owner Daniel Snyder to be the team's offensive coordinator, and then was elevated to the head coaching spot after more interviews were conducted. The unconventional hiring process though has been forgotten and Zorn is well on his way of crafting the Redskins into his vision for the team. Regardless, the Redskins were a playoff team last season and have plenty of returning pieces that make them a formidable foe this week.
The NFC East, which starts with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, also has stiff competition in the forms of the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, is surely one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL and is not exactly the easiest place to get acclimated to the rigors of the head coaching ranks.
But Zorn and the rest of the Redskins will certainly welcome the opportunity to take to the friendly confines of FedEx Field in Landover, Md. on Sunday when they host the Saints at noon central time (Fox 8 in New Orleans & Saints' Radio Network, 870 AM). The Redskins traveled up the eastern seaboard last Thursday for the inaugural regular season game of the 2008 season at The Meadowlands in New Jersey and dropped the game, 16-7, in front of a raucous sold-out crowd and before a primetime national television audience.
The Redskins spotted the Giants a 16-0 lead early in the game but shutout the defending Super Bowl champs in the second half. The Redskins' problems, according to Zorn, started with an inability to convert some early third down conversions that thwarted the offense's momentum.
"The thing that hurt us was not converting those first downs when we had the opportunity," Zorn said. "We had third-and-6 and we'd made 5. We'd have third-and-9 and make 81⁄2 yards. We'd have third-and-7 and make 6. We just couldn't get over that line."
Washington is led by former Auburn signal-caller Jason Campbell, who owns the distinction of playing in his seventh different offensive system in the past eight seasons, dating back to his freshman year at Auburn. Campbell, 6-5, 233 pounds, completed 60% of his passes last year for 2,700 yards with 12 touchdowns to 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 77.6. He is back in the West Coast offense, which he enjoyed considerable success with as a senior at Auburn, and completed 15-of-27 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown last week.
While Campbell settles in to the nuances of commanding yet another new offense, the bread-and-butter for the Washington offense starts with a dangerous running game.
The tandem of Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts spearheads the Washington rushing attack. The two veteran runners combined to rush for nearly 1,600 yards a year ago and 11 rushing touchdowns while adding 70 receptions for 615 yards through the air. Portis is expected to get the start but both backs regularly rotate in and out and offer different running styles, as Portis is more of a slashing pick the hole type of runner while Betts charges through the smallest creases in the line with a hard-charging style.
The Redskins feature a veteran offensive line at nearly every position, led by RG Randy Thomas and LG Pete Kendall. Both are former members of the New York Jets and are equally adept in pass protection as they are in the run blocking phases of the game. They flank C Casey Rabach, an eight-year veteran out of the University of Wisconsin. LT Chris Samuels, a former first round pick out of Alabama, protects Campbell's blindside. The only newcomer to the Redskins' offensive line is second-year man Stephon Heyer, who supplanted long-time starter Jon Jansen after a training camp battle.
The Redskins have long had a history of productivity from their tight end position, and their latest weapon is fifth-year pro Chris Cooley. The 6-3, 249 pound Utah State is a Pro Bowl talent who is expected to excel in the West Coast offense by taking advantage of his abilities to find soft spots in defensive secondaries. Cooley led the Redskins in receptions last year with 57 grabs, while his 734 yards receiving were the second-highest receiving yards on the team.
Washington feature two game-breaking receivers in the form of lighting fast and slippery Santana Moss and former Pittsburgh Steeler Antwaan Randle-El. Moss has returned to playing his preferred spot as the "X" receiver, where he enjoyed his two most prolific seasons in the NFL. Washington also bolstered their receiving corps this season with the addition of two second round picks, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Kelly sat out the opener due to a training camp procedure he had done on his left knee, but according to a recent published report, has returned to practicing and could make his debut this Sunday.
"I've got great news today," Zorn said on Monday regarding Kelly's return. "All this rest, and just the specific work he's been doing in the training room, all the rehab, has really been helping him, bringing him along. We are excited about it. As we work, we'll get him involved."
James Thrash, a 12-year veteran in his second stint with the Redskins, fills out the Redskins receiving corps and also is one of the team's top special teams players.
Defensively the Redskins made the one of the biggest splashes early in training camp when they acquired perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor from the Miami Dolphins. Taylor, a speed-rushing end who generally lines up on the left side of the defensive line, was injured late in the preseason with a knee injury, but returned to action for the season opener at New York. Manning the opposite side of the defensive line is Andre Carter, a former first round pick of the San Francisco 49ers. Along the interior of the defensive line is former NY Giant Cornelius Griffin, who is now in his ninth NFL season after starring for Alabama Crimson Tide as a collegian. Lining up next to Griffin in the Washington 4-3 defense will be either Kedric Golston or Anthony Montgomery, who play in a rotation. Golston suffered a bruised knee and a banged up right elbow last week, but went through practice on Monday and is expected to play, according to reports.
The venerable London Fletcher, who will be making his 121st straight start on Sunday, leads the linebacking crew of the Redskins. Fletcher, who has played in all 161 games of his NFL career (11 years), is a veritable tackling machine in the middle of the defense, with 1,564 career tackles on his resume. To Fletcher's outside on the strong side of the linebacking crew is Marcus Washington, a 2004 Pro Bowler. Washington is a rangy playmaker who has developed a particular penchant for forcing fumbles (14) during his career. Weakside linebacker Rocky McIntosh is returning to full-time action after coming off of a knee injury last season. The top reserve is Khary Campbell, who sat out of Monday's practice due to an undisclosed leg injury that was limiting his mobility according to Zorn. Campbell is one the Redskins' top special teammers and led the team in special teams stops last season with 38 tackles.
Washington's defensive secondary features plenty of big names, including long-time NFL coverman Shaun Springs, who was help out of last week's game due to a shin bruise he suffered in practice after getting inadvertently kicked by a teammate. CB Carlos Rogers has made a surprisingly quick return from two torn knee ligaments and was the ninth player selected overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. The Auburn product is a hard-hitting and mobile defender. Fellow CB Fred Smooth, who was forced out of the game in New York with a reported hip injury, gives the Redskins three highly capable covermen. At safety, many eyes from the Gulf South region will be watching FS LaRon Landry, Washington's hard-hitting and speedy safety who starred for the LSU Tigers. Another product of the area, rookie S Chris Horton, saw some playing time on special teams and in extra defensive back sets last week behind incumbent SS Reed Doughty.
In the kicking department, veteran Shaun Suisham is a strong-legged and accurate kicker who converted 29-of-35 field goals last season in the northeast, which features stadiums that are a little less than exactly kicker friendly. Rookie punter Durant Brooks unseated incumbent Derrick Frost, who quickly was snapped up by the Green Bay Packers. Brooks was busy in his regular season debut, punting seven times for a 37.9 average.
CONNECTIONS: Assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt played linebacker at Towson State from 1974-77. Vitt, Head Coach Sean Payton and Redskins defensive coordinator Danny Smith served on the same staff with the Philadelphia Eagles … Quarterbacks coach/passing game Pete Carmichael Jr. served as a quality control coach for Washington in 2001 ... Offensive assistant Joe Lombardi's grandfather and Pro Football Hall of Fame legend Vince Lombardi, served as Head Coach/Executive Vice President of the Redskins in 1969. Joe Lombardi also previously coached tight ends and tackles at Virginia Military Institute in 1999 ... Assistant special teams coach Mike Mallory served as inside linebackers coach at the University of Maryland in 2000 ... QB Mark Brunell played for Washington from 2004-07, serving as their starting signal caller for his first three seasons with the club ... T Jermon Bushrod prepped at King George (Va.) High School and played at Towson ... LB Marvin Mitchell prepped at Virginia Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) High School ... WR David Patten played for the Redskins from 2005-06 ... CB Usama Young attended Largo (Md.) High School...Washington LB Alfred Fincher was a third-round draft pick of the Saints in 2005 and played for the Saints from 2005-07 ... Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache is a New Orleans native who served on the coaching staff at Tulane from 1976-80 and later at Southern University in 1986 ... WR Devery Henderson was tutored by Washington wide receivers coach Stan Hixon at Louisiana State University from 2001-03 … Saints' assistant defensive line coach Travis Jones and Hixon served on the same Tigers National Championship staff in 2003 … Offensive coordinator/offensive line Doug Marrone and Hixon served on the same coaching staff at Georgia Tech from 1995-99 ... Redskins offensive quality control coach Bill Khayat's father Eddie was an assistant on the inaugural Saints team in1967 ... Secondary coach Dennis Allen and Washington tight ends coach Rennie Simmons served on the same staff in Atlanta from 2002- 03 ... Special teams coordinator Greg McMahon and Redskins offensive coordinator Sherman Smith served on the same staff at the University of Illinois from 1992-94 ... Washington QB Jason Campbell prepped at Taylorsville (MS.) High School ... DT Brian Young and Redskins LB London Fletcher were teammates with the St. Louis Rams from 2000-01 ... TE Jeremy Shockey and Washington DT Cornelius Griffin were teammates with the New York Giants from 2002-03. Shockey, LB Jonathan Vilma and Redskins WR Santana Moss and RB Clinton Portis were teammates at the University of Miami (Fla.). Vilma later played in the same Hurricanes linebacking corps with Washington LB Rocky McIntosh from 2002-03. Vilma and C Jonathan Goodwin were teammates with Redskins OL Jason Fabini and OL Pete Kendall with the New York Jets. Goodwin and Washington G Randy Thomas were previously teammates in New York in 2002. CB Aaron Glenn played with Fabini, Moss and Thomas in New York ... Moss was tutored by wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson at UM ... Tight ends coach Terry Malone tutored Washington T Jon Jansen at the University of Michigan from 1997-98 … TE Mark Campbell and Jansen were teammates for the Wolverines … Campbell and Redskins FB Mike Sellers were teammates with the Cleveland Browns in 2001 ... Redskins S LaRon Landry prepped at Hahnville High School and played at LSU from 2003-06, where he was a teammate of both CB Randall Gay and Henderson ... LS Kevin Houser and Washington CB Shawn Springs were college teammates at Ohio State in 1996 ... DT Sedrick Ellis and RB Reggie Bush played with Redskins TE Fred Davis at the University of Southern California ... DT Antwan Lake prepped at Cambridge South Dorchester (Md.) High School in suburban Washington D.C ... LB Scott Fujita and Redskins DE Andre Carter were college teammates at the University of California. Fujita and Redskins QB Todd Collins were teammates in Kansas City from 2002-04 ... Redskins DL Demetric Evans prepped at Haynesville (La.) High School ... DE Charles Grant and T Jon Stinchcomb played with Evans and Redskins DT Kedric Golston at Georgia ... Washington S Kareem Moore starred at Nicholls State from 2006-07 ... K Martin Gramatica and RB Aaron Stecker played with Redskins TE Todd Yoder in Tampa Bay from 2000-03 ... DE Bobby McCray and Yoder were teammates in Jacksonville from 2004-05 ... Redskins CB Fred Smoot prepped at Provine High School in Jackson, Miss.