Jim Zorn's XXX-Page Playbook
Jim Zorn may be a first-year coach, but he knows how to dance around the 700-page gorillas that have tripped up previous offensive minds in this town.
"No," he said, when asked if he knew how many pages his playbook contains. "Believe me, I am not going to predict how many pages are in our playbook, that's for sure."
Interviews with a handful of offensive players did little to clear up just how much shorter this year's instruction manual is compared to the best-selling Al Saunders epic.
"I never even look at it," said Casey Rabach, who memorized his responsibilities during the offseason. "It comes easy. Football's football. There's only so many ways you can block an inside zone, an outsize zone, turn back protection."
"I mean, a lot of it is just repetition from what we did last year," said fellow offensive lineman Stephon Heyer. "It's not that much different, no. Football's football, no matter how you cut it. There's no play that's gonna be anything different than any other team does; it just depends on when we run it."
"That's a tough question; I wouldn't say there's any difference," Ladell Betts said, when asked to compare playbook heft. Betts, I should say, didn't share Rabach's cavalier confidence; he said he studied daily.
"Oh, you've got no choice; if you don't study you don't have a job," he said. "We have team meetings as an offense, then we go to individual meetings, then we go to our rooms and if there's anything you don't understand you go over it on your own. Even on the bus over, I go over the plays that I know I might not quite have down."
I asked Clinton Portis how long it takes to learn a playbook; "[Bleep], forever," he said. "Right now we're still on installation, so by the time training camp over, and you've just been repeating and repeating, you'll start picking out key words, and words to pick up and mean something."
Does this compare to schoolwork, I asked Portis?
"Actually it's harder, because studying for school, you know, you can find something and take a guess," he said. "You really can't take no guess, 'cause that guess could cost you the game."
("It's a big task," Zorn said, "and that's why they get paid the big bucks.")
It was left to Chris Cooley to draw the clearest distinctions between this year and last. Cooley, so confident in his knowledge of the playbook that he's taken to filling in sheets of paper and tracing over pass routes with green highliters during meetings, said last year's players were handed a sheet containing 300 plays in a microscopic font before each game. This year, he guessed, the pre-game set list would contain no more than 80 plays. The repetition, he said, was breeding a newfound level of comfort, "so you go into a game and you're like, 'Yeah, I know exactly what I'm going to get,' " he said.
"Honestly, the playbook right now does not even compare to last year's playbook," he added. "It's not even half the size. Which is fine. We have variations of plays, we have a lot of different things that we can do off of plays. It's not like we have four million plays and we're just going to learn a new play every time. So it's easier, you can learn and really kind of get down how things work together. Say I'm gonna run 'Y Stick.' [Bleep], I'll run 'Y Stick' nine times in one day, so I'll really get a good feel for 'Y Stick.' Whereas in the old offense I'd run 'Y Stick' once, we'd have to go back and coach it on video, and I really don't have the feeling of what I'm doing on 'Y stick.' "
Of course, several players noted that the most difficult tasks were left to the quarterbacks and wide receivers, whose options in the passing game are far more numerous. Linemen can thus pick up the offense more quickly.
"Say we have 'Jet' protection, we have 25, 30 pass plays out of 'Jet' protection," Cooley said "When you tell an offensive lineman what's the play, you say it's 'Jet Right.' And they don't care what the play is. They have 20 runs and 20 passes. We have 20 runs and 80 passes. They're dumb. It's not hard."
"We're just so damn smart, it's easy," Rabach disagreed.
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