Picking Splinters: Zorn Down, Plenty More to Do

Well, Jim Zorn’s long national-capital nightmare is over. In a move that surprised no one, the Redskins finally did the merciful thing by pulling the plug on the embattled coach last week.

I feel sorry for Zorn, not because he didn’t deserve to be fired, but because he was essentially stripped of both meaningful responsibilities and all dignity before the ‘Skins finally let him go. Heck, they were even interviewing members of his staff to take over his job after the season. It was so humiliating, a friend of mine seriously wondered if Zorn shouldn’t start his own “Fire Jim Zorn” site just to end his suffering. Now he can move on, and so can the Washington Redskins.

Tuesday night the ‘Skins signed former Broncos boss Mike Shanahan to be the next savior. It’s an epic contract (are there any other kind in Washington?) but the Redskins got the Broncos to pick up half of Shanahan’s $7M annual salary the first two years. Now they can get down to the business of making this train wreck of a team better.

Oh, where to start?

Actually, even my mother knows where to begin this remodeling project. Why? Because anyone that’s read this column regularly knows that I’ve picked enough splinters regarding the Washington offensive line to build a house. Or at least a lean-to. The latter would still be sturdier than the Redskins’ front five.

Four years ago, the Redskins’ front line allowed just 19 sacks. Each year since, that total has risen by about 10 sacks, up to 29 in 2007, 38 in 2008 and now 46 this season. If there is any clearer sign that the team’s offensive line has become undone by age and lack of offseason attention, I don’t know what it could be. Particularly considering the team has been running a West Coast offense under Zorn, a system based on short, quick passes and ball control.

I wrote recently that the ‘Skins should spend their first pick on a lineman and I stand by that. Get the most promising guy you can. Then draft two more later. You don’t have to address much on defense. That unit finished in the top 10 in yards allowed per game. You have a corps of young, if unspectacular, wide receivers. You’re set at tight end. You could use some depth at running back, but not even Barry Sanders could run behind this line. Start there.

You may have noticed I didn’t mention the team’s need at quarterback. That’s because I thought everyone’s favorite punching bag, Jason Campbell, could use more attention than a line or two.

I’ll say this about Jason Campbell. He’d make a hell of a weatherman. I say that because he’s spent more time on his back looking up at the sky than anyone on the planet last year.

Since arriving in Washington, Campbell’s situation has been a poor one for a developing quarterback. With what seemed like a new offensive coordinator every season, he’s had more offenses thrown at him than some defense attorneys see in their careers. In addition to learning them all, he had to deal with a dearth of wide receiver targets, as speedy Santana Moss was often covered and the ‘Skins had to keep their TE in to help block.

I talked to a few guys from Scouts Inc. earlier this season about the situation and both firmly believed that Campbell was a good QB in a bad spot. I agree. But he still needs to go.

Campbell needs to put the poisonous environment behind him and move on with his career. The Redskins need a QB they can believe in. But they don’t need that QB next year. There are no attractive QB options on the free agent market (Kyle Orton likely tops the list) and the draft’s top QB prospect heading into the season, Sam Bradford, just had major shoulder surgery. That leaves Jimmy Clausen who has won … uh … about as much as the Redskins the last three years.

Next year is not going to be a playoff year in Washington. Nor should it be expected to be. Shanahan’s hiring should signal the start of a thorough rebuilding process that can lead to sustainable success. And sustainable success starts in the trenches.