Zorn Evaluates Zorn

zornpressconf01There was a noticeably different tone to Coach Zorn’s press conference today, a change that actually addresses some of the most common concerns about his approach during this second half of the season. There was little (if any) discussion of execution, of specific mistakes made by players, of plays that had gone wrong.

What we saw instead was a coach who seems to have fully accepted that something in his approach might need to change as well, and it was interesting to see Zorn’s blunt frankness trained on himself.

(And, I was excited to hear, one who is even willing to consider deferring the decision if he wins the coin toss.)

Here’s a fairly long transcription of the bulk of the press conference — the questions, as always, come from the assembled media members, and they’re not transcribed precisely because the microphone on my recorder doesn’t pick them up, but I’ve tried to give a sense of what the question was as best as I can remember it.

Is this situation challenging to your naturally optimistic personality?

“I’m not sure I could ask any more of the players. I just keep asking them to give more and more, and they’ve really given so much. I think at the beginning of the season we asked a lot of them, and they responded well, and I think these last six games, I think that we’ve asked a lot of them, and they’ve responded well.

“I really feel like — even before this juncture, but certainly now, I’ve got to look at myself.
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Coach Zorn Shuffles The O-Line Deck

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The highlight from Coach Zorn’s press conference today is the reshuffling of the offensive line, a move born more of necessity than of any particular desire on Zorn’s part. (To judge by the comments, though, there are plenty of fans who will be pleased to see some change — ANY change — along the lines, so … here you go!)

Here’s how it breaks down (no pun intended):

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Coach Zorn’s Day-After-Seattle Press Conference

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Coach Zorn’s press conference today seemed, at least to me, to me more about content and less about charming, quirky phrases. (Although there were plenty of those — plenty of “violent”s and “heroic”s and so on.) It’s been instructive, watching Zorn learn to control his natural candor sometimes, learn to realize when something he’s saying might be misconstrued, learn to criticize players without throwing them under the bus. And all of those new traits were on display today.

On the relatively low scores the team’s been putting up:
“We’re trying to score 40, but it seems like … even on that third-and-one, when we tried to get Mike Sellers the ball. And bless his heart, he tried to handle the ball, but we always talk about, as quarterbacks, to running backs and tight ends, you’ve got to keep the ball in the core. And what I mean by that is, don’t put the ball so above his head, like he has to actually extend his arms, because it’s tough. They don’t get to catch a lot of balls like that. We’re always trying to put the ball here, at his face or at his shoulders.”

“But we missed that, and we had to kick the field goal. So we’re missing out on four points, we missed out on maybe eight points in that game in my mind.”

[There’s a back and forth as to how many points were left on the field, and it is pointed out that the team is 27th in points in the NFL.]

“I would like that to change, but I don’t want to go into our meetings and say ‘Guys, we’ve gotta rise up, we’re 27th! Come on, men!’ It can’t be like that. It’s just got to be that we’ve got to press on, and at some point, I’m hoping that we develop a higher level of point production because we’re better. Maybe we are only that good right now. I don’t feel [that way], but something’s not happening.”

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Coach Zorn’s Day After Musings on Moss, Devin Thomas, and Sacks

As with the postgame comments last night, Coach Zorn’s press conference today seemed to acknowledge the obvious problems — pass blocking, pass rush — even while maintaining his trademark confidence. And his brutal frankness was on display, especially during his comments on Devin Thomas and Jason Campbell.

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Some excerpts….

On attempting the big play shot to Santana Moss:

    “When we took a shot down the field with Santana after they scored, that would’ve put us on the nine yard line. That was a deep pass, Santana went up for it, and it was a volitile situation. Had he come down with it, that’s a huge play. We did get protection, it was executed well, it was thrown well. He had to go to heroics to make the catch, and we didn’t get it. That was one of those handful of plays that you wish could’ve gone the other way.”

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omg zorn press conference for oct 27

Possibly the biggest revelation of today’s press conference with Coach Zorn is that he’s started texting, in this case with Clinton Portis. “I’m learning to text now,” he said, making the universal Blackberry gesture with his thumbs. “My daughter says it’s the modern day phone call.”

Photo by Ned Dishman

Photo by Ned Dishman

Other, less crucial news from the press conference….

  • Zornspeak to watch for in the second half of the season: suddenly. “We have to play more ‘suddenly,'” he said, “know our assignments, know our techniques, and it has to be sudden.” Like “stay medium” and “violent,” these things seem to start with a simple mention before rolling out into borderline catchphrases, so keep an ear out for “suddenly” and its many variants.
  • I was relieved to hear that Zorn shares my worries about Santana Moss’s durability as the punt returner. “Antwaan Randle El is our punt returner,” he said. “At some point every once in awhile, we’d like to see Santana come in and return punts,” but he called the system “a tough balancing act.” It reminds me of how Joe Gibbs used to use Darrell Green in the old days, only bringing him out to return punts in the most crucial of situations — and even then, it led to a very famous rib injury.
  • Asked if he was amazed by Santana Moss , Zorn started to say yes before more specifically parsing the question. “He’s doin’ what he does. I love to watch him,” Zorn said. “But is he doing the extraordinary? No — he’s playing to his abilities.”

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Coach Zorn Press Conference – 9/29

Watching Coach Zorn dribble the football in practice — something he makes look confusingly, perplexingly easy — is less interesting than hearing his press conference. But not by much — it’s surprisingly hypnotic. (Photo by Ned Dishman.)

  • London Fletcher apparently tried to explain to Coach Zorn that the Seattle/Oakland rivalry isn’t comparable to Redskins/Cowboys, but Zorn is continuing to downplay the significance. “I felt much like I’ve felt in the past about rivalries. It’s just a big game. I didn’t have a sense of hate. I didn’t have a secret T-shirt on saying ‘Beat Dallas’ or whatever.” This begged a follow-up question, which was asked: did you have have secret Raiders T-shirts? “Yeah, Raiderbusters! AbsoLUTEly!”
  • I didn’t hear him use the word “medium,” but Zorn did manage to work in one of his other favorite words, calling Marion Barber a “violent” running back. I should be tallying this.
  • On Carlos Rogers stepping up, Zorn called it “an awesome job,” and called special attention to the fourth quarter series where Rogers made three straight plays defending Terrell Owens: “He put his stamp on that series. It was totally him.”
  • Every time Coach Zorn talks about calling plays, I think of chess players (even though I hate the football:chess comparison for a variety of other reasons). This comment from today, for example: “I’ve always felt comfortable calling plays. I always have the next play in my mind or on the tip of my tongue.” Further on that subject, he claimed to have no feelings of “I told you so” about the long wait to become a head coach. This is the one thing he’s said that I’m not sure I completely believe, even though he says it perfectly convincingly.
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Day After The Game: Zorn Press Conference – 9/15

Coach Zorn just spoke, hoarser than usual and, strangely, less animated after a win than he has been after the tough losses. He did mention spending a couple of hours enjoying the win, which has to be draining. Anyhow, still honest, but mostly about positive things this time.

  • In fact, Zorn addressed the question of his honesty and candor with … well, with candor, after being asked if he was every afraid of revealing too much. “I just want to be honest about our play and our players. I don’t know that we have too much to hide from that standpoint.”
  • Much of the press conference centered on Jason Campbell’s development, and — as you’d expect — much of that was favorable, the basic thesis being that Campbell is “just improving.” A few more specifics:
    • “He’s been very good in the pocket securing the ball, good decisions on some throwaways that have been excellent.”
    • While he wouldn’t compare Campbell’s development to Hasselbeck’s when he was with the Seahawks, he acknowledged, “They’re big strides. The thing that makes a great quarterback in to develop those strides in such a way that they don’t back up.”
    • On the long touchdown to Moss, he was extremely enthusiastic: “Jason audibled the protection and did a really nice job,” he said, calling it a “teaching tape” on how to avoid in the pocket. “He threw it off-balance 61 yards in the air. That doesn’t happen a lot in the NFL.”
    • And on the crucial Cooley first down, he threw absolutely all the credit to Campbell. “Jason made the complete play. I called a different play, he adapted the concept to the different players. That was all Jason Campbell.”
  • Apparently, that last incident nearly led to another wonderful moment in the ongoing telephonic saga between Zorn and Campbell. “I’m saying, ‘What are we doing?’ I’m mashing the button [on the helmet radio] saying, ‘What’d you call?!?’ But they cut you off after fifteen seconds.”
  • It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course. “We left some things on the field that I was HOT about,” he said. Apparently, they had to take timeout twice for having twelve guys on the field, and burning the timeouts forced Zorn to change playcalls that he was feeling confident about in those precise scenarios.
  • Zorn also acknowledged that they’re considering making a change at punt returner, mentioning Santana Moss and James Thrash as possibilities, although also emphasizing that Antwaan Randle El “isn’t just some [guy] back there.”
  • He expects Reed Doughty to reclaim the starting safety position. “I don’t know if [Chris Horton] is ready yet,” he said. “There’ll be much more complicated situations for him to perform in before we’d call him the starter.”
  • And the injury updates:
    • James Thrash is in a walking boot with a high ankle sprain
    • Fred Smoot left the game with a minor groin injury
    • Reed Doughty, of course, was sick, but should be fine going forward
    • Malcolm Kelly suffered an ankle sprain
    • and Zorn expects Marcus Washington to be ready to go this week.