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Sherm Smith Discusses The Chain Of Playcalling

Posted by Matt Terl on October 22, 2009 – 4:24 pm

After all the noise and commotion and drama of this week is over — all the arguments and radio shows and old players coming out of the woodwork — the Redskins are actually going to have to play a football game in which someone new will be calling the plays.

The chain of playcalling sounds simple enough on paper: consultant Sherm Lewis will be up in the coaches’ booth. From there, he will radio the calls down to offensive coordinator Sherm Smith, who will then relay them in to quarterback Jason Campbell. Head coach Jim Zorn will also be able offer input via headset.

So what’s all the fuss about, then? What’s the hard part that people seem to think Lewis won’t be able to work out?

“Deciding what you’re gonna call,” Smith said after practice today. “The biggest thing that’s got to happen is, since it’s going from A to B to C, is he’s gonna have to run the plays real fast. Whereas if you’re on the field and giving it to him … you know, they shut off the device at fifteen seconds, so he’s gonna have to get the information to me so I can get it to him before fifteen seconds.”

That being the hard part isn’t unique to the Redskins’ new situation, though. “That’s playcalling right there,” Smith said, plainly. “Like I say, you have a whole bunch of plays here –” he held up a playsheet “– and say, ‘Okay now, all of a sudden it’s third-and-1’ and you’ve got to, ‘Hey, where’s our third-and-1 sheet.’ You know, he goes and finds it and calls the play.”

Another thing that isn’t unique? The situation itself. In fact, Smith himself has gone through it before — not without some bumps along the way. “When I was in Tennessee,” he recounted, “we did this with Norm Chow — he was in the press box, Craig Johnson called plays — and there were startup costs to that. There really was. There were the delay of game…. So that’s natural. That’s gonna happen. It can’t be helped.”

That’s where the head coach being on the headset can be an especially good thing. “Jeff Fisher, what he would do, he’d get on the headset after every play and say, ‘Gimme the play. Give us a play.’ And it forced Norm to have to think a little bit faster.

“We’re gonna try not to get those penalties,” Smith said, “but it’s … I don’t want to say it’s inevitable, but it could happen, and I wouldn’t be, like, ‘Whoa! What is THAT all about?'”

Lewis’ focus will be the passing game, and Smith and Stump Mitchell will be available to help him with running plays. But even THAT situation isn’t all that new. “It happens even in the games with Z-man,” Smith explained. “He’ll say, ‘You know, Sherm, gimme three runs.’ And I’ll give him, say, ‘Okay, this, this, and this.’ And then we’ll talk to Buges, ‘Hey, Buges, what do you like?’ It’s a community effort.”

Much of the coverage of the playcalling transition has taken on a divide-and-conquer tone, created a sense that if Lewis is successful, that somehow reflects poorly on Zorn and his staff. Once you stop and think about this for a second, though, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, something that Smith was quick to point out.

“We want [Lewis] to be successful,” he said. “Really do. Because we care about these players — you know, they wanna be successful — so we’re all full-bore trying to make this thing work.”

And they’re willing to take any necessary steps, too. “We’re gonna try to come up with ways to make sure we’re successful, even it means puttin’ a wristband on Jason. That can really help out a lot when, instead of having to read these long plays, you can just say, ‘Hey, man, go to Red 1,’ and Jason looks at his wristband and reads the play.”

Tomorrow’s practice will be the dry run for the chain of playcalling. “What we probably would do,” Smith said, “is just have the quarterback/coach device out there, and I’ll stand next to Sherman, and Sherman’ll give me a play, and I’ll just give it to Jason, that’s all. Heck, I talk to Jason all the time, I give him the plays all the time, so now it’s just [that] I’m gonna be standing further back from him.”

So, I suggested, you’re not going to put Sherm Lewis up with the video guys in one of the cherry pickers?

“Nah, nah. The cherry picker,” Smith laughed, and then turned suddenly serious. “That’s not a bad idea. I’m gonna have to think about that.”

Bracelets, consultants hovering sixty feet over the practice fields … Smith, Lewis, and company are very much determined to make this thing be successful, even in the face of almost overwhelming expectations of failure.

“I think it’s gonna be as smooth as can be under the circumstances,” Smith said. “I just want the players to believe in the plays that are called and go out and execute. You know, they can have a built in excuse, say ‘Oh, well, we got a reason not to be successful.’ We’ve gotta look at it differently, say, ‘this is gonna be our finest moment.’ We’re gonna overcome what the people perceive as being real difficult, and we’ll make it work. We will.”

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