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Interview: Washington Football Team QB Coach Ken Zampese

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

ASHBURN, VA — July 30, 2020

On what QB Alex Smith has added to the quarterback room:

“Great question. The thing that jumps right out at me is urgency to learn. There is nothing about him that says, ‘I already got this, I know this, I did it like this before.’ It is, ‘How are we doing it here in Washington? How do you want me to do it? These are the things and experiences that I have had.’ He adds those afterwards, but he wants to know how we want to do it as a group and that is always first and that is a great example that he sets for the rest of the guys. He could very easily be, ‘Well I know this and have done this and it is like this.’ He is not like that at all. He is fantastic. He is a great example for the other guys, and he has been fantastic.”

On what quarterback identity he wants to bring to the team:

“Well, we need guys to play winning football for us here in Washington the way we ask them to do it. Every team is different, every team has their own philosophies. Those two places had their own and we'll have our own through the eyes of Coach Rivera and Coach Turner, but I know it is going to be a low turnover type deal and a big play down the field when we can get them and be very consistent in between. Those are the things that we will play out and we will work on the mentality as we go forward. It is an attack mentality, but don't be silly with it.”

On how the quarterback position is different compared to when he first entered the league and what he is looking from that position in this offense:

“There is a lot of similarities first of all -- making good decisions, being able to throw with accuracy, mental toughness and just resilient people. Those things cross all lines in all the different styles that this offense has had. The different tweaks come in what wins now in the NFL, it is still a long ball league to a degree. The team's that have the chunk plays move and change the field and score points, especially early in the game throwing it. At the same time there are some new things in the NFL that come with the style of players that we get and wait to attack defenses that we didn't really jump on board with until the last five, six, seven, eight years with spreading the field out. Running the ball happens in gun just as easy as it happens from under center. Five yards from either is still five yards you gained on somebody. But when you stretch it out, you can put the smaller, faster athletes on the field more often. I think now they are more prevalent than some of the big guys and I think that is maybe why we've seen some of these teams go a lot more to three wide receiver personnel to spread the field and get nickel fronts and things like that.” 

On his approach to finally get on the field work with the players:

“Well, it is a great lesson in trust. We have to trust that they are doing what we like them to do outside of the building because that is all we've had with them in a physical standpoint. That they are eating right, sleeping right and training right. Luckily for us, we have guys that love all of those things and that is why they are on our team. When you talk with Coach Rivera down through Coach Turner -- guys that love to play football are guys that are going to come to Washington and be successful for us. These guys are in that mold and that is why I have great trust in those guys. You saw what happened when Dwayne puts his mind to it, he is down the weight, he is in great condition, all of those things that are in your control he has handled very well in the offseason. Now we are in the next step, what are we going to do on the field in this offense and this communication, how we are going to compete and those kinds of things. That is where we are at right now, but all of those guys did a nice job coming back and Alex sure did and Kyle and Steven coming in. He sure got his weight down where he looks like he can roll too.”

On if he takes anything from the lockout season where he worked with QB Andy Dalton:

“Not having guys in the spring, you're trusting that they are accountable people that will handle their business in the playbook while you're not there to oversee it. That year was like that. We were drafting Andy as a rookie and he was going to come in and start, but we didn't have spring. So, he had to be accountable for the language and be able to speak the plays when he got into the huddle for the first to make an impression to all of the veterans that we already did have and he did that. We are in a similar situation. We have a new offense for guys that haven't spoken the language. We have Kyle coming in who has experience in the language. Alex has a little experience with Coach Martz in San Francisco with the language and Coach Turner. But Dwayne and Steven don't and that is why we are relying on those guys to handle their business away from the building. When we have had them on the Zoom meetings, we are pounding the language in their head and making sure they speak it as well as they can until they get out here and actually do it, feel it and talk to the other guys.”

On what he is going to look at with Smith that is different from other quarterbacks in terms of getting him on the field:

“Well, physically the first thing we have to find out is if he can protect himself and we'll figure that out as we go and as he passes the certain criteria to get to the next level of getting himself back to the field. We will figure those things out as we go and when it gets to the point where he gets to practice, we will find out. The drill work will be very important, how quick is he when he pushes off and those kinds of things and change of direction. But I think the other things will come back very smoothly. You don't lose the experience that you have playing the position. Some of those things will be like riding a bike and others won't be. We will jump through all those hoops when the time comes. I am really excited about that.”

On what he would like to see the most from QB Dwayne Haskins Jr.:

“Well, I think the memorization of the playbook, speaking of the language fluently is certainly like learning a foreign language and being able to study the reads and know them inside and out. That is the part that is the toughest. That is the newest. It is easy to drop back five steps and throw to an out route, everybody does that in every offense. Those physical things I think will be easier to pick up. It is the other things like the mental side of it and the memorization of where we want to go and why, the philosophy of the play, who we're trying to throw it to, grouping different reads in such a way that it is not new learning, it is these three are the exact same read but they are not always given that way. As you group things together and as you learn things, with the group in the room, 'Hey what can we put together so that it is less learning?' We just know that it is all this. In fact, we have five or six that are all this read and a couple three other ones that are this read. Say you've got six or you've got nine and there is really only two reads in nine plays. So those are the things we are trying to do to make it easy on all of these guys and Dwayne in particular, and I can't wait to hear him speak and fix things and see those wheels turning faster and faster when we get out there.”

On what he has emphasized the most to the quarterbacks:

“There is not just one thing, but I think if there was it was that you're accountable to yourself and the people around you in how you represent the organization in and out of the building and particularly when you're playing on the field there is a mentality that we play with and it is a no excuse mentality. We put it on ourselves first and then we are going to communicate with the rest of the group to get it all back together and be better the next time out. I think mentality first and mentality and atmosphere are the things that we talk about. If I had to pick one thing it would be mentality and atmosphere. Our mentality in the game, our mentality in the building, how we go about our business and how we are accountable to each other.”

On what sold him on Washington and if his father relayed his experiences with Coach Gibbs:

“I had my own experience. I was a kid and in January, Dad would call a family meeting, which never happened, so we knew something was up. It was about four January’s in a row. It was like OK, how do you guys feel about going to northern Virginia. It was a resounding four no’s and it was done. We didn’t want to leave southern California, what did we know. Northern Virginia was Siberia to us. Is there beaches there? No? Ok, I am out. They had a great relationship. They got a long so well and I am sure it was pretty close to us coming here. I am so glad I have an opportunity now to work with Coach Rivera and Coach Turner. The sky is the limit for us.”

On what sold him on this being the place to be:

“The first thing is the people. Whenever you get a chance to be around Coach Rivera, you take it. You don’t ask questions. It doesn’t matter where it is at. You know what you are getting and it’s all good. You want to be around those guys and leaders. The accountability that filters down through the building when you have someone like that is the atmosphere you want to be in. Everyone has been in atmospheres where it is different than that. When you get an opportunity to take it, you do. On top of that, being here in a storied franchise where it has won at a high level before, that is exciting too to be the people to bring it back.”

On his approach to building a young quarterback:

“I had one sheet because it is not easy, but the steps are not hard. I had an opportunity to do this two years ago in 2018 in Cleveland with Baker Mayfield. He played very well and was a very accountable guy. He was good to his teammates and wanted to win very badly. It was easy for us to do extra work and get ready to play. We had Tyrod Taylor who was a very good player. It came down to Tyrod got hurt and Baker was ready. When you get a young guy, you are on the clock. You have so many years as a grace period until it is going to be on someone else if it doesn’t go right. Then it is going to be on the player, and we need to be ready to go when that happens if it happens when we get thrown in. There is an urgency and an on the clock mentality with a young guy that they have to share. If you have to drag them, it is not fun. For the hunt it is a lot better. Baker was that way and these young guys in the building are that way. That is what encourages me.”

On his evaluation of QB Kyle Allen:

“He is still young and is not old at all. He is just a baby in the league. He had a couple of starts last year and he already knows how to speak the language. He has a talented arm and moves pretty good. There is a lot of upside to Kyle and I can’t wait to get it out of him.”

On what he likes about working with young quarterbacks:

“You get to mold them from the start. There is no first occurrence that didn’t go right. You get to build it. You get to build the mentality. They don’t have any preconceived notions that it hasn’t gone right because they haven’t done anything. You have a chance to feed them the language and information in such a way that you get to see that this works. Things start to slow down for them and there is an added sense of urgency on top of that because they start to see success. I just love that about the young guys and building the mind in what our head coach and coordinator want to see. That part is a blast for me.”

On how he is going to prepare the detail of how Smith would translate into this offense:

“We will be able to see through some of the drill work, how quickly he can move out of the way and slide and play. In 11-on-11 when there is no contact, guys that come through on the rush, how they move in the pocket. How you can accelerate away from a rusher. Those are the things that we will use to determine the next steps.”

On what Haskins can learn from veterans like QBs Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson who he has worked out with this offseason:

“I loved it when he was working with Cam because Cam has had to speak this language for years. Hopefully there was some transfer of shortcuts or different things. Like I know it is like this, but it is really like this. Hopefully there has been some shortcuts. I saw that picture and I told him to ask him anything he wants to know about the offense, and he said he was already on it. He was really excited about the response; I know he was, and I am glad he was working out with Cam.

On what stood out about Haskins’ tape last season:

“I can’t speak on last year. I know those coaches very well. Jay [Gruden] and I worked together, and I know he is fantastic so we will leave that at that. What I saw from Dwayne, he is very quick with the ball. He is very short, quick, accurate. He can repeat the same stroke over and over again. Those are the things that got me excited. Once he sees it, it comes off of his hand very quickly. There is no windup, wasted motion or movements. He is very smooth with his movements. I just think there is a lot of meat on that bone to get. He is just starting and the atmosphere in the building with Coach Rivera will get the best out of him.”

On what an example of a difficult play call would be:

“Twins right fly, scat right 525 F post swing. That would be an example of a play call. A lot of offenses. The protections are digits and the routes are words. This one the protections are words and the routes are digits. As you move from offense to offense, there are different ways distributing responsibility. For the guys that haven’t had the system for the routes, you are converting words into numbers.”

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