With the preseason more than half over, it's become quite clear that there is no need to read between the lines when listening to Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn evaluate a game. He tells it like it is and isn't afraid to needle anybody, but does so with such an upbeat attitude that even the players getting picked on are probably chuckling along.
Take quarterback Colt Brennan, the sixth-round pick from Hawaii who threw the winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of Saturday night's 13-10 victory over the New York Jets. Brennan has put up impressive numbers in two of three games — helping the Redskins to a 3-0 start — and some of the faithful are ready to anoint him as The Next Great Thing.
Zorn's message on Sunday: Get real. Delivered in much nicer words, of course, and accompanied by a smile.
"I just don't want to splash the water on him yet, you know what I mean?" Zorn said. "Here's the thing: He's had great vision, he's made some heads-up plays, and we've had success. I really like all that. Maybe I want more, but I want better technique. I want him to use the kind of techniques that are going to take him further down the road. Remember we were talking differently last week after the Buffalo game: 'Oh, Colt came down to Earth.' Well, now he's in outer space again."
Translation: Brennan, destined to spend the season as the third-string quarterback, is a raw rookie who would probably be pummeled to bits if he were to play against a good starting defense.
"From my standpoint, I think he's doing OK," Zorn said. "He's having fun, but there's a lot more distance that he has to go. He shouldn't be strutting his stuff."
Then there's Devin Thomas, a second-round pick who was supposed to contribute right away. Instead, Thomas failed the conditioning test at the start of training camp and missed the first two games because of a hamstring injury.
So, when Thomas had an unspectacular debut against the Jets — one penalty and no catches despite plenty time on the field — Zorn added yet another reason to poke fun at a rookie who still isn't in football shape.
"Devin had his eyes wide-opened in this game," Thomas said. "I saw him putting ice down his back in the first quarter, and I'm thinking 'That's kind of funny.' He was trying to cool himself off. It was, like, midway through the first quarter."
Then again, Saturday's game was a reality check of sorts for the first-string offense, which had moved the ball well in the first two games. Jason Campbell, who has yet to look fully comfortable in Zorn's offense, got a more serious critique from the coach after completing 4 of 10 passes for 28 yards.
"He still hesitated a couple of times," Zorn said. "The rhythm was a little off, and I think he fought through it. He wasn't sure of the first thing he wanted to do, and I've got to get him to help himself with his gut feel — because he had the right decisions at first and he just wanted it to be better, and he didn't need it to be. It's just inexperience."
Zorn was particularly concerned about the offense's performance in the red zone. On one play, Zorn said Campbell missed an outside receiver who would have scored an easy touchdown.
"He didn't see it, didn't focus on it, and he turned back in and tried to throw the ball back over the middle to the tight end, and it wasn't there," Zorn said.
Zorn will get a better gauge on Campbell and the rest of the starters next Saturday against Carolina. Zorn, like most coaches, will use the penultimate preseason game as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, with the regulars playing well into the second quarter at least.
Notes: RB Ladell Betts and G Randy Thomas suffered minor knee injuries. Zorn said both will be fine, although they might miss some practice time over the next few days. ... CB Carlos Rogers and LB Rocky McIntosh, both returning from major knee surgery, had no physical setback in their first game of the preseason. ... WR Malcolm Kelly, who had arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago, is expected to return to practice by midweek.
Next exhibition WHO: Washington Redskins (3-0) vs. Carolina Panthers (1-1). WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday. WHERE: Charlotte, N.C. TV: 3 8.