Right guard Randy Thomas, the jokester from Georgia via Mississippi State, arrived first as one of the high-priced 2003 "JetSkins" flown to Virginia on Dan Snyder's private plane. Center Casey Rabach, the king of candor from Wisconsin, came two years later, driving to Redskin Park to sign as a free agent. The Redskins acquired left guard Pete Kendall, an analytical New Englander, as training camp wore down last summer.
After an impressive debut as the Redskins amassed 400 yards in the 2007 Week 1 win over Miami, the trio in the interior of Washington's offensive line disbanded the next week when Thomas suffered a season-ending torn triceps.
So Thomas, Rabach and Kendall entered 2008 as an unproven unit. Thomas, at age 32, was coming off his second major injury in three years. The 35-year-old Kendall had chronically ailing knees that sidelined him for most Wednesday practices in 2007. Only Rabach, then nearing his 31st birthday, didn't face major questions.
In the face of that uncertainty, the interior partnership has thrived this season. The Redskins rank fourth in rushing, 11th in offense and at 6-3 are off to their best start since 2000.
"When you've played as many years in the NFL as they have and they see how each other practices, you gain a mutual respect," Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. "I don't care if they like each other. They don't have to go out to dinner together. I think they have a genuine respect for each other, and that's why they play so well together."
While Thomas and left tackle Chris Samuels, a career Redskins player and fellow Southern gourmand, tend to hang together, as do Rabach and right tackle Jon Jansen, a career Redskins player and fellow Midwestern hunter, the interior trio also get along on and off the field.
"It's awesome playing between those two," Rabach said. "There isn't much Pete hasn't seen or done in football. Randy's toughness, his physicality is great to be around. They're almost polar opposites. You tell Randy to go do something, and he'll go do it 100 miles an hour. You tell Pete to do something, he's a little more analytical. Our common experience in life and in football helps. You have something to talk about every day, whether it's the kid that woke up at 4 a.m. or how you block the nose tackle."
Unless Washington faces a defense that uses a nose tackle and a three-technique tackle - which requires frequent changes in the interior matchups - it's not critical that Thomas and Kendall know what the other is doing. However, Rabach, Bugel's lieutenant, has to know everyone's assignments while dueling with massive defenders. Rabach's performance this season earned him a spot on both the Sporting News and USA Today midseason All-Pro teams. Kendall made Sports Illustrated's.
"I see the game for the most part the way Casey sees it, trying to determine what side the pressure's coming from ... the intentions of the defense whether it be via a certain player's posture or an alignment, the understanding of our scheme and how it fits in against the defensive scheme," Kendall said.
Thomas loves to cook. Rabach is an outdoorsman. Kendall is a reader and investor. But they enjoy each other's company. Thomas took his four kids (Kendall has three and Rabach two) trick-or-treating to Kendall's house. Rabach relishes Thomas' hot wings.
"Randy's boisterous in the [meeting] room," Rabach said. "He keeps it lighthearted. Pete's our go-to guy on business decisions, the Dow. My role's pretty easy. I just point the guys in the right direction."
And although Bugel has coached for 42 years, he listens to his veterans.
"They've been around a long time, and they take a lot of ownership of the line," Bugel said. "They watch a lot of tape together. They all ask very intelligent questions. They have really good ideas. When they speak, I listen."