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Backups on line fighting for spots

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Washington Redskins are set with their first three backup offensive linemen -- Chad Rinehart, Jeremy Bridges and Mike Williams. The other two reserve spots are up for grabs.

"Who are the guys that are going to step in and be a part of the offensive line group when it's all said and done? I don't know that answer yet," coach Jim Zorn said Wednesday.

But the answer began developing in December. With their once-bright playoff hopes dwindling last season, the Redskins decided to look to the future.

Within two days, the Redskins signed free agents Will Montgomery and Rueben Riley and claimed D'Anthony Batiste off the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad.

The new linemen didn't play in 2008, so they came to training camp fairly even in their chances of winning a job. Those odds, however, have changed over the past four weeks. Montgomery is a near-lock. Riley is on the bubble. Batiste is a long shot.

"Will has made his move that he's going to be a part of this team," Zorn said. "He does a nice job of being vocal on the field, communicating well. He's been tough as nails."

Said offensive line coach Joe Bugel: "[Montgomery has] had a stellar camp. He's a rough-tough guy, the type of guy you'd have to sledgehammer him to get him [out of] practice. I'm looking for physical, violent and smart guys. Whoever that ends up being, that's the guys who'll make it."

Bugel said the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Montgomery has "really grown leaps and bounds," a development the Virginia Tech alum credits to being able to get a jump on learning the playbook last December.

And while Montgomery hasn't gotten much negative attention, Riley hurt his case by missing a week with a sprained ankle.

"It was extremely nerve-wracking," said Riley, a Michigan alum who has yet to play an NFL snap. "There's an old saying, 'You can't make the club from the tub.' It's so true, especially for a guy in my situation on the latter part of the roster. You're not getting evaluated. But the best thing was for me to get healthy and be able to give it my all when I got back out there."

Starting defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said the Redskins shouldn't let Riley go, praising the guard's strong hands and his eagerness to learn from the veterans.

As for Batiste, Bugel said he isn't "a powerful dude" while noting his good feet -- but what the coach didn't mention was his physicality.

"I feel good about how I'm coming along," said Batiste, who moved from guard to tackle last week. "You've got to be confident with what you do. I don't play the numbers game. A lot of guys get caught up in that and get discouraged. I don't let doubt enter my mind."

Montgomery does. Although he has started six games for the 2006 Carolina Panthers and the 2007 New York Jets at guard and is getting praised by the Redskins' coaches, he doesn't want to hear that he has made the team. But center Casey Rabach, whose contract is expiring after this season, knows that Montgomery is not only his new backup but could succeed him in 2010.

"Will plays with really good leverage, and he's playing smarter and smarter," Rabach said. "Push comes to shove and he has to play this year, hopefully he knows what he's doing."