Friday, October 23, 2009 Updated: October 26, 4:48 PM ET
Another off-the-wall call by Redskins
By Jeffri Chadiha ESPN.com
ASHBURN, Va. -- If you want to know how dysfunctional the Washington Redskins are, just consider the way some players reacted to the recent news that Sherm Lewis would be calling their offensive plays. Though Lewis had been working as an offensive consultant over the past two weeks, some players had no idea who he was when the team stripped head coach Jim Zorn of his play-calling duties Sunday.
"Some guys were like, 'Sherm who?'" one player said Thursday. "We know who [offensive coordinator] Sherm Smith is, but a lot of guys were clueless. Eventually, somebody said he was the little black guy who'd been sitting in the back of the room during our meetings."
Sherm Lewis has play-calling experience, but how well can he be expected to know the Redskins' personnel?
The sad thing about the Redskins isn't that their offense is now in the hands of a 67-year-old man who had been out of football for five years and most recently was calling Bingo games at a Detroit-area senior citizens center. It's that most of the players seem content to accept this craziness as just part of working for the franchise. They know they're stuck in a depressing situation. And for many of them, this is one more example of how poorly run the Redskins have been under owner Daniel Snyder and executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato.
You could hear the resignation in their comments before practice Thursday, even as they tried to put a positive spin on a comical situation.
"I was surprised when I heard the news but I wasn't going to doubt [Lewis]," said wide receiver Santana Moss. "When I started checking into his background, I started remembering who he was and what he's done. Obviously, something was wrong before, even though [Zorn] was lacking some things as far as injured players. But we also need a spark. Maybe this will give us that."
These are the things that players say when they don't want to accept that their season is doomed after only six games. The Redskins (2-4) surely understand that Lewis can't do much to save an offense that is averaging 13.2 points a game. Backup quarterback Todd Collins admitted as much Wednesday when he told local reporters that he'd never heard of a team that changed playcallers in the middle of a season. What Collins didn't have to say is that it's even more implausible for a team to hand such duties to a man who had no involvement with the squad all season.
That isn't to say Lewis doesn't have credentials. After all, he was a respected NFL assistant coach for 22 years and he called plays in Green Bay (1999) and Minnesota (2000-2001) toward the end of his career. He's also best-known for being passed over for head-coaching jobs in the 1990s, when he was part of a Green Bay coaching staff that saw six other assistants become head coaches. But as wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said, "It's never one guy that is the problem. This is a team thing. Sherm Lewis could call the perfect play, but if we don't execute it, it's not going to matter."
There are no secrets as to what the Redskins' major problems are on offense. As Moss mentioned, their offensive line has been plagued by injuries to left tackle Chris Samuels (a neck injury that could end his season and possibly his career) and guard Randy Thomas (on injured reserve with a triceps injury). Zorn also doesn't have the perfect personnel to run his West Coast offense, as his best receivers (Moss, Randle El) don't have ideal size for the system and his biggest receivers (Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas) haven't developed quickly enough. On top of all that, quarterback Jason Campbell has struggled to the point that Zorn benched him in Sunday's 14-6 loss to Kansas City.
The Redskins also have to contend with the scrutiny that has increased since Zorn's job security became an issue over the past few weeks. To his credit, the coach has vowed not to interfere with Lewis, whose first test comes in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night. Zorn proved his intention by saying he wouldn't be involved in the plays as Lewis communicates them to the quarterback.
"Sherm has to be able to do his thing," Zorn said. "And I don't want to have the temptation to override him."
That type of attitude has helped Zorn -- who has been told that he will coach the remainder of the season -- earn even more respect from his players. They appreciate the way he has handled this team despite all the signs pointing to his eventual dismissal.
"If I were him, I would be having some serious problems with what they did," guard Derrick Dockery said. "But he hasn't gone into a corner and pouted about it. He's handled it with flying colors."
Still, it's scary to think what the Redskins' offense will look like against the Eagles. Lewis does have the benefit of having been around the team long enough to understand the strengths and weaknesses of certain personnel. But evaluating players in practice and making critical decisions on game days are two distinct challenges. The best-case scenario for Lewis is that he makes it through this week and then spends the bye week catching up.
What we can't expect is for Lewis to offer many insights on how he's adjusting to his new role. He hasn't spoken to the media since he revealed his previous Bingo job during his first interaction with local reporters. The funny thing is, Lewis was simply being honest that day. And if the Redskins are smart, they'll accept the truth about something else: This latest change is one more indication of how screwed up the franchise really is.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.