Ken Zampese went into his interview with Ron Rivera with just one sheet of notes. Before the Washington quarterbacks coach was hired this offseason, he first had to interview for the position. As part of the process, Rivera wanted to hear Zampese’s plan for developing a young quarterback.
That’s where the notes came in handy. In that sit-down, Zampese shared his experience working with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, the first overall pick in 2018. He told Rivera that there was a “clock” every young quarterback had, one that creates a sense of urgency that coaches and the player have to share.
They needed to be ready, he said.
“It’s not easy, but the steps aren’t hard,” Zampese said Thursday in an online press conference.
Washington is now on the clock with two young quarterbacks of its own: incumbent Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen. Rivera has said Washington will have a “pure competition” to determine its starter. Zampese will play an instrumental part in the process, relaying information to the signal-callers and testing them to make sure they grasp it.
Having gone through the situation in Cleveland, Zampese said it was important for Mayfield to show he was “up for the hunt.” If a team has to drag its quarterbacks, “it’s not fun,” he said. Zampese believes he saw Mayfield up for the challenge, and added he’s seeing the same with Washington.
“What you have to do when you get a young guy — you’re on the clock,” Zampese said. “You only get a grace period for so many number of years where it’s going to be on somebody else if it doesn’t go right, and then it turns to the player.”
Zampese, 53, likes working with younger quarterbacks because it’s an opportunity to “mold them from the start.” He said found that because of the inexperience, the players don’t tend to carry preconceived notions. And, he said, you can build them step-by-step.
Beyond Mayfield, Zampese spent almost 15 years with the Cincinnati Bengals, working with his share of young quarterbacks in that time. He helped the development of Carson Palmer, the first overall pick in 2003, and Andy Dalton, a second-round pick from 2011. For the latter, he even worked closely with former Washington coach Jay Gruden.
Along the way, Zampese said a key part of the process is making sure the quarterbacks know the terminology. He compared it to learning a foreign language, making sure they’re fluent in it. Under offensive coordinator Scott Turner, Washington will return to the “Air Coryell” offense, a system the team under Norv Turner (Scott’s father) in the late 90s. Zampese gave a sample of the language that the team’s quarterbacks will have to master: “Twins right fly scat right five 25 F post swing.”
Throughout his 20-minute press conference, Zampese was often asked his opinion of Haskins, Allen and Alex Smith — the last of whom isn’t a young quarterback but a three-time Pro Bowler working his way back from a horrific leg injury.
When Zampese watched Haskins’ film, he was encouraged. He said he saw Haskins’ making quick throws, particularly when the decision was made. No windup or wasted movements. “I love that part about him,” he said.
Allen, meanwhile, is just 24 years old. The 2018 undrafted free agent climbed up the Carolina Panthers’ depth chart and started 12 games last year after Cam Newton went down with a season-ending foot injury. Zampese said he sees “a lot of upside” in Allen, noting his arm strength.
Then, there’s Smith. The 36-year-old will need to pass his football physical to compete for the job, but Zampese said Smith has “displayed an urgency to learn” and sets a great example for the rest of the group. With Smith not having played in nearly two years, Zampese said he’ll be monitoring if the veteran can still protect himself when on the field.
In some ways, this moment had always been circling Zampese. A coach in the NFL since 1998, Zampese grew up watching his father, Ernie, work as an assistant in the league, including a stint in Washington in 2004. But former coach Joe Gibbs’ pursuit of the elder Zampese went back years before that.
On Thursday, Zampese recalled a childhood story of his father calling a family meeting each January for four years straight. Living in Southern California at the time, Ernie Zampese asked if his family would be open to moving to Northern Virginia.
“It was a resounding four nos immediately,” Zampese said. “Northern Virginia was Siberia to us.”
“I’m sure glad I’m here now,” Zampese said.
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