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Sam Farmer / ON THE NFL

Risk factor

The hiring of Jim Zorn as coach of the Washington Redskins is among several surprising moves made by teams.

September 04, 2008|Sam Farmer

Debate in the nation's capital swirls around experience. Who's qualified and who isn't? Who deserves the job and who's a pretender? When it comes to decision-making strength, is the backbone iron or origami?

Only this debate doesn't involve the presidential campaign.

It's about Jim Zorn, new coach of the Washington Redskins.

A year removed from a post as quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Zorn has replaced Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs and is the first in franchise history to install a West Coast offense that's predicated on short, timing passes.

And Zorn, whose team opens the NFL season tonight against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants at the Meadowlands, is running the scheme with quarterback Jason Campbell, who's adjusting to his seventh offense in eight years, dating to his college days.

The Redskins are taking a risk, but will it pay the kind of dividends they expect? For what it's worth -- and the exhibition season can be deceiving -- Washington was outscored, 71-6, in its last two exhibition games.

"I think the hardest part for me is calling the plays and not being able to sustain [drives] for many reasons," Zorn told the Washington Post after watching the tape of a 24-3 loss to Jacksonville. "It hasn't been the same reasons. If I was calling plays and I felt like I just kept running into a brick wall every time I called a play, then I'd feel really kind of nervous about me and the stuff that I'm calling. But when you see it on video, there's an answer, and there are correctable answers."

The Redskins are far from the NFL's only risk takers this season. Every team crosses its fingers to some degree. A look at some other gambles, from the calculated ones to the Hail Marys:

* With Tom Brady nursing an undisclosed foot injury, New England passes on the chance to sign a more experienced backup and sticks with Matt Cassel.

Brady plans on making his 128th consecutive start Sunday when the Patriots play host to Kansas City. But he didn't play in any of the exhibition games, and Cassel -- former backup to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC -- directed 17 series in games this summer yet failed to reach the end zone.

* In Green Bay, first-year starter Aaron Rodgers is backed up by two rookies.

The knock on Rodgers is he hasn't been durable. Of course, no one looks especially durable when compared to the resilient Brett Favre. Regardless, if Rodgers goes down, the Packers are relying on rookie Brian Brohm backed up by rookie Matt Flynn.

* Despite two torn knee ligaments, San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman decides to play this season.

Neal ElAttrache, who isn't Merriman's doctor but is a knee specialist, said the star linebacker won't have a problem running forward. But what about the Chargers moving forward? They aren't taking any chances, recently re-signing backup linebacker Jyles Tucker to a five-year deal. Expect to see a lot more of him this fall.

* Reasoning his team has a better chance to win with 37-year-old Kurt Warner at quarterback, Arizona Coach Ken Whisenhunt benches Leinart.

This move might work out in the short term but really threatens to stunt the development of Leinart, who has shown flashes of promise and who, but for injuries, could be much further along.

* San Francisco, which is starting journeyman quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan, has a No. 1 receiver who's halfway to 40 and has a history of injuries.

The good news for the 49ers is that the receiver is 35-year-old Isaac Bruce. That's the most you can ask for a franchise that hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens left after the 2003 season. If anyone knows how to freeze time for Bruce, it's offensive coordinator Mike Martz. But Bruce hardly played this summer, so he and O'Sullivan didn't get much of a chance to build chemistry.

* NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates Adam "Pacman" Jones, who will play cornerback for Dallas.

Jones was suspended for a year by the league after numerous brushes with the law in his first two seasons with the Tennessee Titans, including his alleged involvement in a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club. Everyone deserves a second chance, but what about a third . . . a fourth . . . a fifth?

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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