BALTIMORE – Jim Zorn has already made an indelible mark as the Ravens’ new quarterbacks coach by bringing a kid-at-heart enthusiasm, a proven record for improving mechanics and a mean game of dodgeball.
Long before the Ravens begin their first official offseason minicamp Friday, Zorn lined up his quarterbacks and started hurling huge Pilates balls at them.
The quarterbacks got hit. And they got hit again. They soon realized they couldn’t just duck or take one step to get out of the way. Just as if a 280-pound pass rusher were bearing down on them, the quarterbacks had to make a sudden shift to one side, reset their feet and deliver the throw.
Most quarterbacks coaches don’t tap into changing direction like that. But the Ravens’ quarterbacks learned right away that Zorn isn’t like most other coaches.
“I’m sure they had some conversations when they were walking in (for the dodgeball drill),” Zorn said. “The whole idea is to get the work out of them and not get boring.”
Some might consider Zorn’s ways as outside the box. But many supporters say Zorn’s tactics are more in tune with quarterback play than any other coach’s.
Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called Zorn “the premier quarterback coach in the NFL for the last 15 years.” Ravens Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer proclaimed him “the Butch Harmon of quarterbacks coaches,” referring to the renowned golf instructor who served as Tiger Woods’ longtime coach.
Still, the pre-season media buzz will center on how the lauded additions of Anquan Boldin, Donte Stallworth and two young tight ends will boost Joe Flacco. Many inside the Ravens’ organization believe the best offseason move was bringing in Zorn, 56, the deposed Washington Redskins coach who is determined to make Flacco one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
“He coaches all of the things that translate to the game,” Cameron said. “I think that’s where some quarterback coaches miss. But Jim doesn’t miss in that area.”
What many outsiders miss is that there’s a method to Zorn’s drill madness.
At this year’s training camp, many heads will turn when Zorn busts out the Slip ’N Slide. Zorn uses it to help the quarterbacks slide.
“They may seem outside the box to traditional people,” Cameron said. “In my mind, all his drills make sense. They translate to helping a guy play better.”
Dilfer knows firsthand how Zorn can elevate a quarterback’s game.
Before going to Seattle, Dilfer said, he got lazy and let his mechanics get out of sync. After four seasons with Zorn as his quarterbacks coach, Dilfer became his biggest fan.
“This is going to sound really arrogant, but (former Seahawks coach) Mike Holmgren said this to me: I would have gone to eight or nine Pro Bowls if Jim would have coached me early on,” Dilfer said. “He can fix any flaw you have as a thrower. More than anything, he can help you reach your potential.”
Perhaps no one is more qualified to help Flacco reach his potential than Zorn. His NFL résumé includes 11 seasons as a quarterback and 11 seasons as a respected quarterbacks coach.
As the Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach from 2001 to 2007, Zorn was pivotal in the growth of Matt Hasselbeck. With Zorn, Hasselbeck went to three Pro Bowls and set 12 franchise records.
His next assignment is Flacco, who is at a pressure-filled point in his career.
Under Hue Jackson, now the Oakland Raiders’ offensive coordinator, Flacco had the fifth-most passing yards through two seasons in NFL history (6,584). But his critics will point to the fact that he threw more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (eight) against playoff teams last season.
“I have nothing but great things to say about (Zorn) so far,” Flacco said. “He has a drill for just about everything.”
Perhaps the most important step for Zorn this offseason is earning the trust of Flacco, Troy Smith and John Beck.
“I’m not God’s gift to coaching,” Zorn said. “I have to earn the right to be heard. I have to say things that they’ll believe.”
Building relationships is important to Zorn, who is known around the league as a considerate and humble man.
Dilfer said Zorn is the best at having a player’s back, especially in the coaches meetings.
“He will not back down. He’s not afraid of anybody,” Dilfer said. “He’s going to speak his mind. He’s going to ruffle some feathers now – but in a good way.”