Something I’ve noticed, based on the conversations I’ve had recently, is that some otherwise very informed and intelligent Redskins fans aren’t hugely familiar with the team’s coaching staff outside of head coach Jim Zorn, defensive coordinator Greg Blache, and offensive line legend Joe Bugel.
So through these slow times in the offseason, I thought it might be useful to everyone if I caught up with those other guys one by one to get a sense of who they are and what they’re expecting heading into the 2009 season.
Offensive assistant Chris Meidt seemed like a good choice to start with, partially because he had the title that needed the most clarification (“offensive assistant” being spectacularly vague), and partially because he speaks incredibly quickly and would be able to pack a lot of information into a relatively short interview.
Casey Rabach, hearing that I was planning to interview Meidt, observed something else about the way he speaks: he has a pronounced Minnesotan accent. Not the cartoonish one from Fargo — more of an acute midwestern accent, with some flattened vowel sounds and rounded Os — but clear nonetheless. “I thought that I had an accent,” Rabach said in his Wisconsin accent, “and then I listened to that guy for awhile.” I didn’t think it was that dramatic, aside from turning “raw” into “rah” when characterizing Colt Brennan, but if you’re trying to hear Meidt’s voice in your head, add some Minnesota to his lines.
Which makes sense, since Meidt’s a Minnesota guy through and through. His last stop before joining the Redskins last year was tiny St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where his teams earned a 40-20 record, and he grew up in Minneota. His teams in St. Olaf were known for their offense, and Meidt has something of a reputation as a quirky offensive football mind.
But I started with the most basic question I could think of.
Your job title is somewhat nondescript — “offensive assistant.” What do you actually … you know … do?
Meidt: “Nondescript is a good word, because it leaves it really open to do almost anything, which I do. So you can fill in the blanks.
“I work with the quarterbacks, meetings on the field. I work with the gameplan — putting the gameplan together, I gather the passing portion, especially integrating it with formations in the run game.
“I work with [offensive coordinator Sherman Smith] real closely on different things we want to study in terms of what’s going on offensively, different personnel groups, packages.
“I work with [Coach Zorn] real closely on how we’re mapping out OTAs, how we’re mapping out training camp, how we’re gonna arrange things. So I do a little bit of everything.”
This is your second season in the NFL, after a head coaching stint at St. Olaf. Is this something you aspired to?
Meidt: “No. The NFL was never something I ‘aspired’ to. It wasn’t my ‘dream job’. I was thrilled doing what I was doing, impacting young kids’ lives, making a difference in their future. But I think I can do the same thing here.
“Instead of working with 17, 18, 19, 20 year old guys, now you’re working with 22 to 28 year old guys, for the most part. Some, like Todd [Collins], are my age. I think the chance to impact people is still there.
“For me, it was completely, 100%, a God-driven deal. It wasn’t the kind of thing where I was determined to work every angle to get it. I just said from the beginning, if it was what He wanted for me to do, then I would do it. If it wasn’t, I was completely at peace with where I was.
“Am I enjoying it? Absolutely. I love it. I love the guys, I love the challenge, I love what we get to do. So in terms of a dream job, it’s kinda become that. But it wasn’t what I ‘aspired’ to do.”
Have you noticed any difference yet, as you head into year two? Is it any easier?
Meidt: “Yeah. The second time you do anything, it’s easier. And in this case, much more enjoyable. The first time around, it’s stressful. It’s a new staff, we’re putting it all together, trying to manage a lot of things. I’m doing a lot of things in a much different role than what I had been doing, going from being a head coach to an offensive assistant. So those are the biggest transitions.
“Time, if you’re a football coach, in-season is all day every day. The biggest transition is a different role, and managing it with the way things are done differently — not better or worse, just differently.
“Second time around is just wonderful. I understand how Z wants things done, Sherman and I have a tremendous relationship so he gives me a lot of freedom. Now we understand the system of how we go about preparing, how we go about putting our OTA plans together, how we plan on scripting. Every coach understands roles and responsibilities. So this second time around we’re light years beyond where we were at this time a year ago.”
And is that something you’re seeing reflected in the players?
Meidt: “Yeah, without question. Jason and Todd and Colt really understand how we’re going to do drills, how we want them to move at the top of the drop. You know, you hear the things that Coach Zorn talks about all the time, and that’s what we work on. That’s what we reiterate daily out on the field: decision-making at the top of the drop. Extending the drop. Ball location at the top of the drop. Footwork of how we’re gonna go from under center. Footwork from the shotgun. Those are things that we’re continuing to do right now.
“If you look at our install for the June OTAs, it’s probably twice as much as it was last year as far as the number of plays that we’re putting in. We’re much further ahead in terms of what we can install and the concepts that we can drive home. “
Is “top of the drop” just the last step of the drop, or is there something more to it?
Meidt: “You’re reading as you’re coming back. In a five-step drop, you’re reading all the way back. When you hit your fifth step — the top of that drop — you need to know where you’re going with the football, and on rhythm. Doesn’t mean you always throw off your fifth [step] — the play might be a five-step-set-throw — but you understand when you hit the fifth step, it’s the top of the drop. The ball’s ready, the footwork’s ready, the timing’s ready with the receivers.
“And a lot of that obviously has to do with the receivers running routes at the proper depth, and that’s what we’re seeing more of than a year ago.”
You have a reputation as something of a math guy–
Meidt: “I’m actually going to be in Math Horizons!”
What’s Math Horizons?
Meidt: “Math Horizons is THE publication for undergraduate mathematicians. So every undergraduate math major in the country, every math department in every college in the country, gets Math Horizons. It comes out quarterly.”
And what are you doing for them?
Meidt: “They’re writing an article about math majors actually doing something interesting. Not that being an actuary isn’t interesting, but … it’s a human interest story on math majors. So be looking for it.”
All right. So do you use your math major in your role here?
Meidt: “Absolutely. Everything we have here is …” He pulls out a pad of paper covered with a neatly ruled hand-drawn grid, each box carefully filled out. As he flips through the pad, it becomes clear that every page in the thing is similarly filled. “F’r’instance, everything I have for our ins
tallation [of plays] right now is in a spreadsheet.
“Then what I’ll do is I’ll drive it down to each day, which leads us to a calendar driven by our installs, and then what we do situationally, and I make a spreadsheet for that. So I make sure we balance the situations and personnel groups that we’re working on for different days.
“And then that all cuts across by each of our different passing areas, to make sure we get balance across and down those.”
When you decided to be a math major, was ‘football coach’ the end result you had in mind?
Meidt: “No, I just knew that I liked numbers and I liked organization and football became the absolute best avenue to use that. Because it’s so complex — so many pieces, such a big grid. And that’s why I think being analytical does help in football, because it allows for a more comprehensive preparation.”
Do you use any new statistical methods? Any Football Outsiders stuff or anything like that?
Meidt: “Baseball is the one with all the statistics and metrics. When I was into baseball as a kid, it was always about on-base percentage — everyone talked about average, but I didn’t care. I wanted to, when I did my rotisserie stuff, it was ‘who’s gettin’ on base? Who’s drawing walks?’ because if you get guys on base, you’re gonna score runs.
“Football is similar in some ways, but it’s so dependant. It doesn’t matter to the leadoff guy in a baseball lineup what the eighth hitter is doing. Football’s not like that. You can’t just take one measure — say, ‘Jason Campbell, three-step drop’ — because if the left guard steps on his foot, it has nothing to do with what Jason Campbell did or didn’t do on that three-step play.
“So football is much more complex, because everyone’s integrated and their performance is completely dependant on all these other variables out there. But you can do some measurements in terms of how you install things, how you put things together, how you tie the running game and the passing together.”
How involved are you in play-calling? I remember reading last year about how you were something of a gutsy play-caller….
Meidt: “I think Coach Zorn and I have a great relationship. He allows me to be open and honest with my opinions. He’s the head coach, he’s in charge, he’s calling the game. We all understand this, but sometimes he’ll take suggestions and say, ‘That’s a good idea, I’m gonna do that,’ sometimes he’ll say ‘I’m not gonna do that,’ and we move on.
“He’s a great listener, but he’s also firm in terms of being in charge. He knows the direction he wants to run this team, run this program. He’s got a real clear vision.”
When I watch practice, I tend to see you working most closely with the quarterbacks. Can you run through those guys — Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Colt Brennan, and even Chase Daniel, who you helped to scout — one by one and tell me how they’ve looked based on what you’ve seen this offseason?
Meidt: “I think Jason’s doing just an absolutely awesome job. Even through all the other talk, he just came back to work. He worked as hard if not harder through the chaos. He came in and took charge of this football team during minicamp and OTAs. He was in charge at the line of scrimmage, he used multiple cadences, he audibled — I mean, he did things that he just wasn’t ready for at this point last year.
“He was on receivers if they ran the wrong route, he was on the O-line when they jumped a couple of times … he had complete charge of this football team. So we were thrilled about that.
“And he threw the ball well. Mechanically, he’s getting better every week. He keeps working on that.
“I’m thrilled with Todd’s work and where he is — much better quarterback than a year ago at this time. I think he’s healthier; physically, he’s had a great workout this offseason. Technique-wise, very, very sound. He understands how to get the ball out at the top of his drop, and he understands our offense better now than he did a year ago.
“Colt is still a raw” — it really does sound exactly like rah — “young quarterback. What Colt has is great gamesmanship. He has the ability to make a dramatic throw, and what we’re working on Colt on is what I just referred to with those other two: just being fundamentally very sound on his drops, ball location, decision-making. What Colt can do is just play the game. He can throw from any position, so that’s what makes him special.
“And we’re excited about Chase. We’re very fortunate to get him in as our fourth quarterback to come in and compete in camp. Chase is a great student of the game, incredibly bright, and will work his tail off. So I think we really have four great quarterbacks as we prepare for the year.”
Once we get to the point where people can come to training camp or watch preseason games, what should they look for in the quarterback to measure any improvement since last year?
Meidt: “I think he’s gonna get the ball out quicker. I think he’ll have better decision-making, but I also think we’ll have better, more precise routes. I think our protection’ll be better. I just think as a football team we’ll be better.
“I think it’s hard for someone who’s not just right in the middle of it to judge, because all they can judge on is the result. And football’s just such a process-driven game, such a team game. It’s easy to look at the quarterback and think, ball’s complete, he did great, ball’s incomplete, he stunk. But that’s just not how it is.”
Last question, and I’ll let you go: you also work with the young receivers. What have you seen from them?
Meidt: “Fred [Davis] is out there with us all the time — he’s become a real workhorse, running route after route after route, even after he’s done his own workout and a full lift. Devin [Thomas] is out there with us all the time. Malcolm [Kelly] is out there catching, because he can’t run the routes full-speed yet, but he’s out there a lot. So those three have been diligent in being there. I’m thrilled with their seriousness at becoming NFL caliber players. We’re expecting those guys to be major contributors for us.”
Tags: assistant coaches, AssistantCoaches, Chris Meidt, ChrisMeidt, meeting the coaches, MeetingTheCoaches
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