Zorn crafts new identity for Chiefs

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — While instructing the Chiefs quarterbacks, Jim Zorn ducked and dipped his shoulders, shifted his hips, pump-faked the football and nimbly moved his feet.

It was just as he did in his days as a scrambling passer for the expansion Seattle Seahawks.

And just as he was depicted in a poster on the bedroom wall of a young Todd Haley.

"I thought he was a cool lefty who played hard and looked cool in the new-fangled Seattle uniform …" Haley said admiringly of Zorn, the Chiefs' new quarterbacks coach.

Zorn, 59, is the club's fourth quarterbacks coach in Haley's three seasons in Kansas City. Zorn is also with his third team in three seasons. After serving two years and going 12-20 in the impossible job as head coach at Washington, he became Baltimore's quarterbacks coach last year and helped the development of Joe Flacco.

But Zorn was let go by the Ravens in a shakeup of the offensive staff after the season and was snatched up by the Chiefs as a position-coach replacement for Charlie Weis, who departed for the University of Florida.

Unfortunately for Zorn, the NFL lockout prevented him from working with Chiefs quarterbacks except for one four-hour session with Matt Cassel last spring. So he's making up for lost time by drilling Cassel, backup Tyler Palko and fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi with boot-camp intensity.

Zorn, unconventional as a player, brings some of the same unorthodox methods to his coaching of quarterbacks, introducing drills the quarterbacks have never experienced.

"It's been fun," a perspiration-drenched Cassel said after a recent practice. "He's a guy who has played the position, and he has us doing all these unique drills with us trying to mimic game speed and what really happens in the game."

That includes having the quarterbacks practice throwing off-balance, because for about 40 percent of the time, that's what they're doing in a game.

"There is a lot of duress out there," Zorn said. "We're not going to block everybody every play … we're trying to create those game-like situations in drill work that gives him the chance to make right move."

Even if it means having Cassel and Stanzi throw left-handed … like Zorn did for 21,115 yards and 111 touchdowns during a career that put him in the Seahawks' Ring of Honor.

"If you take too long to make a move of changing directions," Zorn said encouraging ambidextrous quarterbacks, "you'll get sacked …"

Some of those wacky drills led to some disagreements with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and led to Zorn's departure from Baltimore. But Flacco swore by Zorn's methods, and Haley saw him as in ideal fit in Kansas City.

"What I really like about Jim is he's a really smart guy and is an outside-the box thinker," Haley said. "He's a little 'west coasty' for me … but he's not afraid of confrontation, yet he's a very good confrontation smoother-over.

"He's one of those guys who can tell you he doesn't agree with you without completely working everybody up. He's got a great demeanor. … He has a great understanding of not just the passing game but the overall offense … and you throw in he was a head coach in a pretty difficult situation, it does nothing but help myself and the rest of our coaches. I couldn't get him fast enough."

Zorn, who helped turn Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck into a three-time Pro Bowl and Super Bowl quarterback at Seattle and tutored Charlie Batch of Detroit to the fourth-highest passer rating among rookies in NFL history, was just as eager to come to Kansas City.

"I was still reeling from leaving Baltimore," Zorn said. "I enjoyed it there. Their team is very good, Joe Flacco is a really good quarterback, so it was hard for me to leave there.

"But the next opportunity that comes along … to come here? Todd and I communicate well. We see the passing game the same way. We want to attack down the field.

"This was a great opportunity. We have a pretty good team here. To hand the ball to Jamaal (Charles) and to see Dexter (McCluster) running, those guys can really play, and that's going to enhance what Matt does as well."

Cassel threw 27 touchdowns with just seven interceptions and his 93.0 passer rating was eighth in the NFL last season (right behind Flacco's 25-10, 93.6). Zorn is hoping for even better things in 2011.

"He's already a starter in the National Football League," Zorn said of Cassel. "His whole deal now is to even be better than just a starter."

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