What seems clear: NFL players will take notice when that word is applied to their play in a game, exhibition or otherwise.
"Our coach is a little different; he has weird ways of getting his points across. But if he said someone was playing soft, well, then, it's time to pick your game up, plain and simple," fullback Mike Sellers said after practice Wednesday.
"If somebody called me 'soft,'" Sellers said, "that's going to make me come out the next week and do everything in my power to make people say, 'OK, who's that guy?'"
As kick returner Rock Cartwright explained it: "He's the boss. If Coach says we were soft, apparently he's seen some people who were soft."
Washington lost 23-0 to the Baltimore Ravens last week, getting outgained 500 to 196 in total net yards.
The next day, in assessing his team's performance, Zorn said: "We missed tackles. We were soft in other areas, both offensively and defensively. You know, soft playing; you know, with that kind of intensity. I thought there was a lot of guys out there playing, but they didn't really realize how difficult a game this really is. And we paid for it in some of the situations."
A little later, Zorn described oft-beaten cornerback Justin Tryon as having "played a little soft." The second-year NFL coach — a former starting quarterback in the league — also made a more general reference to his team, saying: "You could see hesitation. You could see us playing soft."
As if on cue, the first real scuffle of camp came two days later at Sunday morning's practice: veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall vs. rookie receiver Marko Mitchell.
And then some players reacted to Zorn's choice of words this week, with defensive end Renaldo Wynn, for one, pretty sure the coach was talking about the offense.
"Guys competed on defense," Wynn said. "I think for us, on defense, it was more miscommunication."
Zorn did attempt to backtrack a bit when asked about the "soft" comments Tuesday, saying that he was referring to giving up too much of a cushion on defense.
"It wasn't 'soft' from the standpoint of we were just 'puff toast,'" he said.
Perhaps. But that sure did sound to be his standpoint when he originally was making those remarks about "soft playing" and "intensity."
Either way, he — and his players — hope Washington looks a little better in Game 2 of its exhibition schedule, at home Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It's preseason, but it's the Super Bowl champions," Wynn said. "You're going to have that fire against the Super Bowl champions."
Defensive coordinator Greg Blache said Zorn didn't mention anything about "soft" play to the coaching staff.
But did Blache agree with that general sentiment after Game 1?
"There are some guys that were soft that won't be here in September. The question is: Are the guys that's going to play for you in September (soft)? If they were soft, then you've got a problem," Blache said. "If you have guys that are going to be working at Walmart or selling insurance come September (who) were soft, they're just showing you why they should be at Walmart or Progressive or whatever."
NOTES: TE Chris Cooley (back spasms) and DE Phillip Daniels (drained left knee) sat out practice Wednesday, but Zorn expects both to play against Pittsburgh. ... OL Mike Williams (sprained ankle) is questionable for the game. ... PKs Shaun Suisham and Dave Rayner are expected to split duties against Pittsburgh the way they were supposed to against Baltimore: Suisham works the first half, Rayner the second. Because Washington received the opening kickoff and failed to score all game, Suisham did not get on the field against the Ravens. Rayner's only duty was the second-half kickoff.