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Concerns mount on O-line

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

Even though they were gassed from running four 50-yard sprints as self-inflicted punishment for false-start penalties, several Washington Redskins offensive players commandeered an equipment cart and quickly drove away to avoid a long walk to the locker room after Wednesday's first practice.

If only things on the field went that smoothly.

The Redskins' sixth day of practices was notable for who watched - five offensive linemen, including three current starters and one potential contributor.

It made for several interesting matchups as the Redskins' defense continues to get the upper hand in team drills:

Andre Carter vs. right tackle Jeremy Bridges, not Stephon Heyer (left knee) or Mike Williams (groin).

Phillip Daniels vs. right guard Chad Rinehart, not Randy Thomas (right knee).

Cornelius Griffin vs. center Will Montgomery, not Casey Rabach (left calf).

A line already trying to get in sync with new starters Heyer and left guard Derrick Dockery has seen its progress grind to a halt because of the injuries. Not that anybody is worried.

"Nothing's major," offensive line coach Joe Bugel said after the two-hour, full-pads practice. "Nobody is out for the year like [other] teams are losing guys. These are nicks and bruises where the trainer says give them one more day or two days and they'll be better. That doesn't concern me one iota."

Said Thomas: "We're rehabbing trying to get back on the field. It's a long time until the season starts, so we'll let you guys get impatient."

Bugel and Thomas aren't worried because the season opener isn't for another 5 1/2 weeks, Heyer's MRI revealed no structural damage, Rabach returned for Wednesday's second practice and Williams doesn't have a history of groin problems. Left tackle Chris Samuels (knee) did very little during the second session but has had a good camp.

Thomas is another matter. As he recovers from offseason neck and knee injuries, the Redskins' goal is to get him to the Sept. 13 season opener even if it means giving him more rest than normal. If he breaks down, Rinehart or Bridges will be in the lineup.

"I'm concerned about Randy," Bugel said. "His knee is aching right now, and we need to be sure he feels very, very good before we put him in the lineup and bang him around."

Even before the injuries cropped up, the Redskins' offensive line was a hot topic. Granted, the defense is normally ahead of the offense this early in camp, but the number of Jason Campbell dump-offs and throwaways began to mount almost immediately.

Taking Bugel and coach Jim Zorn's words at face value, Rabach, Heyer and Thomas should be healthy soon to rejoin Samuels and Dockery.

That's when the real speculation begins.

But will the group be effective? Will Clinton Portis have the same kind of running room he did early last year? Will Campbell be sacked fewer than the 38 times he went down in 2008? Will Zorn be hamstrung in his playcalling?

"If we stay healthy, our pass protection is going to be better, and I definitely expect the same results with our run blocking," Zorn said.

But...

"My level of concern is that we're not getting the reps to be cohesive," Zorn said. "They're nagging pulls and strains, so I'm not as concerned about the injury as I am about the lack of work we get when we are injured. I don't like to say it's a part of training camp, but when you're struggling, those guys are so big and they're banging and moving and trying to do it right, you get little nagging pains."

The Redskins' defensive line has held the advantage in most practices, and Bugel admits the blitz pickup needs to improve. On one play Wednesday, cornerback DeAngelo Hall rushed and was unblocked. But Campbell sees the value in resting the starters.

"It's tough right now because a lot of guys are getting nicked-up and bruised and having to sit out practices," he said. "But those guys have to sit out because we want them back healthy instead of continuing to add on to their injuries."

Campbell took snaps behind a first-unit line of Samuels, Dockery, Montgomery, Rinehart and Bridges in the first practice. Rabach replaced Montgomery, and Devin Clark took over for Samuels in the second workout.

When healthy, if the pass protection improves as Zorn expects, it adds more chapters to his playbook - chiefly the downfield passing game that disappeared down the stretch.

In first-half wins over New Orleans, Dallas and Philadelphia, 15 of Campbell's 96 passes traveled 15 or more yards. He was 9-for-17 for 274 yards (one touchdown) and was sacked nine times.

In second-half losses to Pittsburgh, the Giants and Baltimore, 16 of his 118 attempts traveled 15 or more yards. But forced to throw long under pressure more often, Campbell was 3-for-16 for 61 yards (three interceptions) and was sacked 13 times.

"A quarterback, if you don't have pressure, feels freer to throw on a different kind of rhythm," Zorn said.

As the lead communicator of the line, Rabach said Zorn hasn't overhauled the scheme to improve the performance.

"There are a couple of tweaks here and there protectionwise, but it's mostly about winning one-on-one matchups," Rabach said.

The starters expect a smooth transition once everybody is back on the field, at which point they can work toward erasing the tough second half of last season.

"We're all comfortable with each other and know each other enough that we'll be on the same page and pick up where we left off when we all get back out there," Heyer said. "We're waiting for that day to come, and it'll be here soon."