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NEW YORK -- New Redskins head coach Jim Zorn has this nasty habit of saying exactly what's on his mind. Even though he's been in the league for more than 30 years, Zorn (thankfully) has yet to develop the Belichickian art of choosing words so carefully that they hold little or no meaning.
Maybe that's why he couldn't help himself when the Redskins went belly up in what was supposed to be a dress rehearsal game against the Panthers two weeks ago. Instead of blowing off the 47-3 exhibition loss, he threatened to play his starters a week later in order to find a "tempo" heading into the regular-season.
|Jim Zorn's Redskins will open the season tonight against the New York Giants.|
Zorn trotted out quarterback Jason Campbell and the starters for two three-and-outs the following week against Jacksonville and came close to exposing them to further embarrassment before mercifully pulling the plug.
It's hard to believe this was the same team that won its first three preseason games, causing even the reserved Zorn to gush (by his standards) about the team's offense. But in losing their final two preseason games in ugly fashion, the Redskins were forced to face the following reality: No one has a clue whether they'll be any good.
We do know that the club's new approach to the draft hasn't yielded any immediate results. Instead of spending wildly in free agency, the blueprint in past years, the Redskins sat tight and selected 10 players in April's draft. Owner Daniel Snyder, his top personnel man Vinny Cerrato, Campbell and Zorn hopped on AirDan in the days leading up to the draft and paid visits to exotic locales such as Manhattan, Kan., Norman, Okla., and East Lansing, Mich., in search of more offensive firepower. After one more look at Kansas State's Jordy Nelson, Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly and Michigan State's Devin Thomas, the Redskins were able to land the last two in the second round of the draft -- plus tight end Fred Davis.
Thomas and Kelly showed their gratitude by reporting to camp out of shape and subsequently getting hurt. Perhaps scouts were onto something when they called this one of the worst wide receiver drafts in recent memory. Thomas and Kelly both set up shop in Zorn's doghouse, and their first impression even caused the normally mild-mannered Campbell to make a house call.
"We had so much expectation for those guys contributing to our offense," Campbell told me after practice Tuesday. "I thought we'd grow together quickly. I went over to their place and visited with them about everything. I told them this was the real deal. They needed to show up on time for meetings and to study. We need them out there."
Campbell said he's disappointed that he and the receivers haven't had a chance to get on the same page, but he's hopeful they can play catch-up during the season. I haven't had a chance to ask him yet, but I'm pretty sure Zorn would be pleased to read his quarterback's comments. He hasn't attempted to change Campbell's laidback demeanor, but he realizes how important it is for his quarterback to set the tone for the offense.
Perhaps sensing that his team was a little tight, Zorn held a show-and-tell session before Tuesday's practice. He stood in front of the team and showed them the thigh pads that he used while playing quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. According to Campbell, they looked much more like hockey thigh pads.
"It was like three different thigh pads stuck together," Campbell said. "He said he did it because he kept getting kicked all the time. He must've looked like a stray bird running around in those things."
Yes, I realize that bringing your old thigh pads to team meetings might not evoke memories of Rockne, but it apparently loosened up the Redskins heading into their final real practice before tonight's season-opener.
We'll see two division rivals who won't be at full strength. The defending champs open the season without their two best pass-rushers from last season, retiree Michael Strahan and the injured Osi Umenyiora.
The Redskins will probably err on the side of caution in deciding whether to use defensive end Jason Taylor. As Zorn has pointed out, they'd rather give him another week to recover from his knee injury than risk losing him for an extended amount of time.
For Giants coach Tom Coughlin, the beginning of the season will offer a welcome respite from all the Super Bowl questions. He's grown increasingly irritable about the obvious "repeat" storyline, and he's finished looking back. Some coaches would use the losses of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Jeremy Shockey as a built-in excuse for not making another Super Bowl run. But that's not how Coughlin is wired. He's summoned all of his motivational energy -- and T-shirt slogans -- to prepare his team for the season. During training camp, he pointed to PGA Championship winner Padraig Harrington and Olympic swimming phenom Michael Phelps for inspiration. And this week, Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards, the fiancée of starting cornerback Aaron Ross, dropped by practice to deliver a stirring message.
In some ways, the Redskins and Giants are both dealing with a lot of unknowns heading into the 2008 season. For the Redskins, everyone wants to know what sort of impact a first-time head coach will have and whether the improbable run to the 2007 playoffs was an aberration or a sign of things to come.
The Giants already were attracting doubters before the loss of Umenyiora. And like the team they defeated in last year's Super Bowl, the Giants embrace the us-against-the-world mentality. It's not easy to have a chip on your shoulder after winning it all, but sharing a division with the traveling circus known as the Dallas Cowboys sure helps.
For one night, though, all eyes will be on the Giants and Redskins. And based on last season, you'd be a fool to count either team out.