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Chester’s quickness key in zone blocking

- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2011

Maybe Chris Chester simply was destined to play for Mike Shanahan at some point during his NFL career. When you examine Chester's background, it just makes sense that a coach who loves athletic linemen eventually would seek him out.

The Washington Redskins' top free agent acquisition on offense played tight end at the University of Oklahoma for three seasons before becoming an interior lineman. It has been eight years since that position change, but he hasn't lost the ability to run.

So when the Redskins searched for ways to improve their shoddy offensive line during the post lockout free agency frenzy, Chester was on the list of targets because of how he fits what's required of linemen in Washington's zone blocking scheme.

"It probably suits me a lot better in the long run because you really get to utilize athleticism and get running," Chester said.

Better than the Baltimore Ravens' power attack, that is. After the Ravens drafted him in the second round (56th overall) in 2006, Chester played center and guard for five seasons in a scheme that values strength over speed.

Power wasn't his greatest asset, and it still isn't. That much is clear from the three training camp practices in which Chester has participated with the Redskins. He appears much more comfortable and capable pulling on running plays than squaring off in one-on-one pass protection drills against bigger linemen.

But because Chester (6-3, 315) has never played in an NFL zone system, Shanahan admits that signing him to a five-year, $20 million contract last week is a leap of faith.

"He ran a 4.75 [-second 40-yard dash] coming out of college, so I loved his speed," Shanahan said. "We had to project him into our scheme."

All parties are optimistic less than two weeks into his Redskins tenure. A major reason is that offensive line coach Chris Foerster held the same position in Baltimore for Chester's first two NFL seasons. He sees a match between what Chester can do and what he'll have to do for the Redskins' offense.

In Washington's zone scheme, linemen often block by running laterally, while the running back patiently waits for a cutback lane. And as in all NFL schemes, linemen sometimes have to run into the defensive backfield to block linebackers.

"Sometimes a guy who maybe has great footspeed but maybe doesn't have great size can't play in a gap-style offense, although they all need to run," Foerster said. "Guys that have lesser footspeed have trouble in our offense. Chris fits the mold for us as far as his footspeed and quickness for what is needed from the guard position."

Chester, 28, weighed about 220 pounds when he arrived at Oklahoma in 2001 and redshirted. By the time he moved to center in 2004, he was up to 278.

He weighed 303 pounds at the NFL scouting combine before he was drafted. Learning to take advantage of his increased size and his new position on the field was a process that continued with the Ravens.

"He had to learn the position in the league, as all the guys do, but he had to learn even more going forward," Foerster said. "He has become a more veteran player that way. He also was not a very big guy coming out. He is now a lot bigger guy than he was five years ago when he came in the league. He has just grown up as they all do."

So perhaps this is where Chester will finally put it all together. He's in a system that should maximize his talents, and the Redskins need that just as badly as he does.

"Chris' strength is very good now," Foerster said. "He's put weight on and has still maintained a lot of his foot quickness and speed, so I'm excited to work with him again."

Note: The Redskins agreed to terms with defensive lineman Doug Worthington, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Pittsburgh drafted him in the seventh round in 2010, and he spent time on the Steelers' and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squads.

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