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BY RICH CAMPBELL
ASHBURN--Rock Cartwright decided to introduce himself to the new guy. He is one of the Washington Redskins' six co-captains, after all. So he went to Sherm Lewis' office recently and found the new offensive consultant dissecting film of the Redskins' season-opening loss to the New York Giants.
Cartwright asked Lewis about what it was like to be part of the San Francisco 49ers' dynasty in the late 1980s, what it was like to coach the legendary Jerry Rice. They chatted for a bit and then went their separate ways, each hoping to help this struggling football team reverse its course.
Cartwright's snippet of interaction with Lewis is much like many of his teammates'. Lewis spent most of his first two weeks on the job observing with a hands-off approach. Some players don't know him. Others have met him for only a few moments.
That's why they're unsure of what to expect when Lewis, not head coach Jim Zorn, calls plays on Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I'm looking forward to it," Cartwright said. "It's going to be different with somebody else calling the plays, but it's part of this business. We're ready to make adjustments and go from there."
'HE'LL MAKE HEADS SWIM'
Though the Redskins are in the dark about Lewis' tendencies and philosophies as a play-caller, two of his former players yesterday offered glimpses into how Lewis will direct the offense.
The West Coast offense guru put his stamp on the 1999 Green Bay Packers and the 2000-01 Minnesota Vikings by calling plays for offenses that each year ranked in the top 12 in the NFL in total yards.
"He knows what he's doing," former Minnesota receiver Chris Carter said. "He'll talk that West Coast offense around your head and make your head swim."
Carter's Vikings thrived under Lewis in 2000, finishing fifth in the NFL in yards and points per game.
That team, however, featured receiver Randy Moss, running back Robert Smith and quarterback Daunte Culpepper, in addition to Carter. That's more talent than the Redskins appear to have.
"The Redskins have to determine what they're going be," said Carter, who now is an analyst for ESPN. "You can compare them with the Vikings, but, man, we were good! We went to the NFC Championship!"
Lewis liked to have the Vikings' line up in three-receiver sets, Carter said. Former Green Bay receiver Antonio Freeman corroborated that. They also recalled Lewis' affinity for big wideouts.
"The big receivers are going to run your underneath routes, those crossing routes, slants and drag routes--and that's what this offense needs," said Freeman, who's now an analyst for Comcast SportsNet. "They need a big guy to get those third-and-4's and -5's and help Jason Campbell to have an outlet.
"A lot of times for a bigger quarterback, it's hard to find those [smaller] guys when you want to run a true West Coast offense with slants and crossing routes."
Carter sees Washington's play-calling change as a chance for wideouts Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to finally make a bigger impact.
"In the West Coast offense, you need some receivers with some size," he said. "I think if you look at the people that they drafted, it's time for them to start paying some dividends."
In Minnesota, Lewis frequently used a single-back formation because Smith could still make a big impact without a fullback blocking for him, Carter said. He sees a parallel with Redskins running back Clinton Portis.
PUSH TO BE EXPLOSIVE
Lewis' offenses also featured an explosive element.
"When he was the coordinator, he wanted to go deep," Freeman said. "He wanted to take shots down the field. He took shots and put guys in the right positions with his play calls to be able to take advantage of one-on-one opportunities."
Freeman gushed over Lewis' work in the red zone and on third downs, areas in which the Redskins have struggled significantly this season.
"The red zone was his true specialty," he said. "He knew how to spread defenses out and get the ball to guys to score points."
In light of the positive reviews offered by Carter and Freeman, it's imperative to note that Lewis will operate the Redskins' offense on Monday at a distinct disadvantage from his work a decade ago--he has been with the franchise since only Oct. 6.
He hasn't granted interviews since his first day on the job, so it's unclear how familiar he is with Washington's personnel.
Zorn was asked about that on Monday when he publicly ceded control of the offense.
"I'm not going to speculate on how comfortable Sherm feels, but I do know this: He has been here for two weeks," he said. "He's going to have a strong suit, and he's going to have a need for help."
It's certainly not ideal for overcoming the Redskins' shortcomings on offense. The unit ranks 23rd in total yards and is scoring only 13.2 points per game, and the problems go beyond play-calling. The offensive line has been devastated by injuries, the quarterback play has been uneven and the group lacks many explosive elements.
"You can only change so much in a couple weeks," Carter said. "You can't change the whole system. The No. 1 thing is to analyze what they're doing now, see what they do well, and then try to get them to do that more often and try to add in some wrinkles. That's what I think Sherm will do."
Jason Campbell will start at quarterback on Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Jim Zorn said on his radio show yesterday.
"I needed to take him out [against Kansas City], and I think we had some things there that he knew he missed without being under duress," Zorn said on ESPN980-AM. "I made the decision, but I didn't give up on the young man. I didn't give up on the QB, so that's where I think I'm going to head as all is said and done here."
Washington signed free agent left tackle Levi Jones yesterday to bolster its injury-riddled offensive line. It's the latest indication that the Redskins expect left tackle Chris Samuels' neck injury to sideline him long term.
Jones played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2002-08, but lower-body injuries limited him to only 31 games the last three seasons. Cincinnati released him in May after drafting tackle Andre Smith in the first round. Jones worked out for several teams since his release but has not played this season.
Jones was the 10th-overall pick in 2002. Redskins right tackle Mike Williams was the fourth-overall selection that year.
The Redskins also signed running back Quinton Ganther and re-signed defensive end Renaldo Wynn. Ganther did not make the Tennessee Titans' final roster in September after he suffered a calf injury in a preseason game. He had nine carries for 61 yards and six catches for 43 yards with the Titans last season.
Wynn was released last Saturday for the second straight weekend to make room on the 53-man roster for fill-in punter Glenn Pakulak.
Pakulak was released yesterday, as were running backs Marcus Mason and Anthony Alridge. Mason, a preseason fan favorite, had six carries for 19 yards this season.
Rich Campbell: 540/735-1974
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