The Washington Times - July 17, 2012, 03:34PM

This week I’m counting down the five most important personnel questions facing the Redskins in training camp and the preseason.

Monday - No. 5: Who will win the starting free safety position?


No. 4: What will the offensive line look like, considering two first-stringers are working back to full health?

Washington lacks proven, quality depth up front. That’s one reason the Redskins, whose starting offensive line last season was depleted by injuries and a suspension, ranked 20th in yards per play (5.22 ypp) last season. Perhaps no area was hurt more by the offseason salary cap penalty than the line, which could have been significantly upgraded in free agency, particularly at right tackle. But that’s spilled milk now.

Kory Lichtensteiger’s speed is what makes him valuable, and we’ll have to see during camp how that comes back. He tore the ACL, MCL and medial and lateral meniscus in his right knee last Oct. 16; it goes without saying how serious and extensive that is. He participated in some individual drills in June, but let’s see if he can consistently maintain his pace when the pads are on and linemen are hitting.

Steigs seemed much more comfortable last season at left guard in four games before his injury. He appeared to have finally adjusted after having switched from center in 2010. He and left tackle Trent Williams worked better in tandem against stunts. Those two also were Washington’s best downfield blockers on screens, an integral part of Mike Shanahan’s offense.

The Redskins have some alternative plans in place if Lichtensteiger can’t run like he used to. One involves third-round pick Josh LeRibeus, who played left guard at Southern Methodist. That would likely represent a significant dropoff, though, especially considering how well Lichtensteiger and Williams played together earlier last season. There’s chemistry between those two, and that’s important.

On the other side, Jammal Brown’s mobility at right tackle will be highly scrutinized during camp after Shanahan issued a public challenge to him in January. Brown this summer proclaimed improved fluidity and range of motion after doing pilates and yoga during the offseason. Let’s see if that carries over to the field when pads are on and linemen are absorbing daily poundings.  

If Brown can’t move well enough to hold down his first-team spot, the Redskins have a couple of options. Tyler Polumbus serviceably filled in for him late last season. His long reach is an asset, but he wasn’t dominant. Willie Smith struggled to consistently maintain a good base during his rookie season as an undrafted free agent, so let’s see whether he has improved his footwork and reduced his tendency to lean.

The offensive line can find optimism in the cohesion they’ll have with all five first-stringers returning. Lichtensteiger’s and Brown’s health, however, will significantly impact the group’s effectiveness.