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Hopefuls finally fall in line

- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

The Washington Redskins had gone four years without taking an offensive lineman before the draft's fifth round when they chose Chad Rinehart in the third round in 2008. Big, strong and smart, the Northern Iowa product was supposed to be the future of the aging line.

Devin Clark, who had transferred from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College to New Mexico, was the only one of Washington's four undrafted rookie linemen not to play four seasons at a four-year school. But Clark made the practice squad and got into two games on special teams.

Rinehart was inactive for all 16 games.

"Going into the season, I understood we had a veteran line, but I figured I would get some playing time at some point," he said. "It was definitely a disappointment. It's been a lifelong dream to play in the NFL, and I can't say I've done that yet."

As the Redskins approach their June organized team activities, Rinehart, 24, Clark, 22, and third-year man Stephon Heyer, 25, represent a youth movement for a line that features aging starters Chris Samuels, Casey Rabach, Randy Thomas, Jon Jansen and Derrick Dockery.

With Samuels recovering from triceps surgery and Thomas limited as he returns from neck surgery, Clark often lined up at left tackle and Rinehart at right guard at minicamp and May OTAs. Clark hadn't played left tackle since his freshman year in college, but he welcomed a chance to display his versatility.

"I'm happy to play wherever," said Clark, who primarily plays right tackle. "The more I can do, the better chance I have of being on the team. I'm starting to get a lot more comfortable on the left side as I get some of the technique down. My feet have to be going 100 miles an hour to block those speed-rushers. You can't get bull-rushed. I have a real big problem with drifting into the backfield, and I have to keep working on that."

Rinehart, a three-year starter at left tackle in college, is making the transition to guard. He took all the snaps at right guard during team drills of a May OTA practice.

"I played tackle for five years, but I was always more the mauler type," Rinehart said. "I really feel comfortable at left guard and at right guard. I figure I'll be bouncing around until I find a starting spot. I just want to get on the field. You have the space and a little time to work with at tackle. At guard, everything's so sudden, but I think I've been showing the coaches that they don't have to be nervous when I'm on the field. If they give me a shot, I feel like I can play."

Rinehart and Clark have remained close since they arrived at Redskin Park last April.

"We came in together, been through everything together," Rinehart said. "Last offseason, I was training for the combine: the bench press, agility drills and the 40 - stuff that doesn't really apply to football. This year, I've been able to train for football, concentrate on my explosion and my first step. I got all my strength back, and I'm a lot more comfortable and confident in the system."

Offensive line coach Joe Bugel raved about the progress Rinehart and Clark have made.

"Those two guys are really coming on," he said. "Chad has changed his body. He's stronger. He anchors better, and he has a better idea of what it takes to succeed in this league. Devin has done a nice job at left tackle against some pretty good pass-rushers.

"We didn't draft a lineman, but I really like the young guys we already had."