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Zorn in an awkward spot

Zorn in an awkward spot

Bob Molinaro, Washington Redskins reporter for the Virginian-Pilot in Tidewater, did a Q&A with Jim Zorn when the Skins were down in Virginia Beach for their annual Beach Blitz.

Certainly, nothing earth-shattering was revealed in the interview. I did, however, find one of Zorn's answers interesting because it pointed out a challenge that he faces that most other rookie coaches don't have to deal with.

Here is the exchange:

Will your system make Campbell a better quarterback?

I just cringe answering a question like that, because it might imply that the staff before me failed, and that's not it at all.

Usually, when a new coach takes over he doesn't have to tiptoe around making sure that he doesn't say anything that could be interpreted as a knock on his predecessor. Sure, you don't want to go around slamming the guy you replaced, but by the same token you don't have to be guarded in any implied criticism.

However, most new head coaches aren't replacing legends with busts in Canton, Ohio. In fact, Zorn is in a spot where few, if any, have been before.

He's replacing Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls here in his first run. While his second run wasn't as successful, he helped get the Skins back on the right track. On top of all that, he's a better person than he is a football coach.

Now, many who followed the team through the glory years and the more recent so-so comeback—present company included—have had some critical things to say about the way Gibbs coached in his comeback.

But that would be vastly different from Jim Zorn coming in and going negative on Coach Joe. We have been here, watching every play of every game, following every event from week to week, month to month, year to year. We've earned the right to take issue with the Hall of Famer.

Zorn, on the other hand, has been hanging out on the Left Coast for most of the past few decades. He hasn't been here so he hasn't built the credibility to be critical of what Gibbs did and didn't do.

And, no doubt, behind closed doors, Zorn occasionally wonders, "What the hell was he thinking?" when watching film. Every once in a while he's talking to a player who was here last year and wants to say, "He wanted you do it that way?" And, behind closed doors, Zorn might let such comments pass through his lips.

That doesn't mean that Zorn thinks he's smarter than Gibbs or that he knows more than Gibbs. Different coaches have different ways of getting things done and it's natural that what one coach thinks makes perfect sense would have another coach rolling his eyes

But in public, talking to reporters, he has to be very careful not to let anything slip. For the next several months, well into the season, Zorn will continue to "cringe" every time he gets a question that involves an answer that could be phrased in a way that might be considered to be a knock at the way Joe Gibbs did things.

Zorn is just starting to live down the "maroon and black" gaffe. He doesn't need to make another verbal misstep. It's obvious that he's being consciously careful not to.

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Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Alabama dominates college football in a way few teams ever have. In the last two seasons, the Crimson Tide has lost just two games, winning one national title and narrowly missing a second.

The strength of 'Bama, year after year, is their defense. Nick Saban coaches it, Nick Saban knows it, and Nick Saban demands the best from his players. 

Oddly, however, a few recent Alabama defenders drafted to the NFL have not produced. Or at least their production did not match their draft status. 

It's not too hard to pick names that fit that perception. Rolando McClain. Terrence Cody. Dre Kirkpatrick. And at running back, Trent Richardson didn't help.

Still, the Redskins invested heavily in the Tide during the 2017 draft. Their top two picks played for Saban's defense last year, and Washington coach Jay Gruden does not buy any part of the perception that 'Bama products regress in the NFL.

"I don’t see any negative whatsoever with them going to Alabama," Gruden said late Friday night.

The 'Skins selected Jonathan Allen in the first round and Ryan Anderson in the second. Both guys started on the Tide's front seven, and both players dominated.

"They come there and they are well coached. Anytime you watch college football, and you watch other defenses, no disrespect, and then you flip on an Alabama game, it’s different," Gruden said. "The speed is different. They are well-coached, they are in their gaps, they play hard, they play physical, and that’s from Week 1 until the end. That has to appeal to you as a coach. They are using their hands, they are physical, they are chasing the ball, they are running to the ball."

The perception, right or wrong, has two main positions. The first is that the Alabama defense looks so good because it is full of five-star recruits. When everyone is good, or great, on the college level, it's hard to truly judge any singular player's game tape. The second is that Saban is so exhausting, so demanding of his players, they arrive to the NFL with too many reps.

For those around the NFL, both theories are laughable. Pro scouts know game tape. How else can they judge a future first rounder when he matches up against a walk-on? And for every alleged 'Bama bust, think about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Landon Collins or C.J. Mosley or Dont'a Hightower. 

Might some Tide players get overdrafted because of their success and high profile? That's a different conversation. What's certain is the Redskins are quite confident in both of their Alabama draft picks.

"We know they are both highly intelligent guys. They understand football, understand X’s and O’s and they both play very hard with a high motor and they are well-coached."

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Redskins draft oft-injured Auburn CB Joshua Holsey with their final pick

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Redskins draft oft-injured Auburn CB Joshua Holsey with their final pick

The Redskins haven't shied away from using draft picks on players with an injury history, and that trend continued all the way to their final pick of the draft with Auburn CB Joshua Holsey.

Holsey missed parts of the 2013 and 2015 seasons at Auburn due to torn ACLs, but rebounded with a strong season in 2016. He had 30 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes defended in his senior season.

RELATED: REDSKINS ROLL THE DICE ON 7TH ROUND SAFETY

He was overlooked through most of the draft process due to his injury history and was snubbed at the combine. 

The seventh round is a spot to take a flier on a guy who has some traits you like, and this certainly fits the bill with the pick of Joshua Holsey. 

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