Redskins kept offensive line intact, despite unit being a weakness last year

Will Montgomery (with ball) gets ready for a play on the line of scrimmage during an informal Redskins practice at a facility in Northern Virginia in June 2011. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)Will Montgomery (with ball) gets ready for a play on the line of scrimmage during an informal Redskins practice at a facility in Northern Virginia in June 2011. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)
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Kory Lichtensteiger was away from his television during the NFL draft in April, so he had his wife send him a text message of each Washington Redskins selection. There was a natural sense of relief as name after name popped up on his phone. Not until the final round did the Redskins select an offensive lineman.

Coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to prioritize other positions despite the line’s struggles last season might have resulted from the team’s wide range of needs. But Lichtensteiger, ever the optimist, interpreted that as a vote of confidence.

“That’s the way it feels to the player,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s how the coaches feel.”

The truth eventually will be known. If the free agent market ever opens under a new collective bargaining agreement, Shanahan could try to upgrade a unit that ranked 23rd in the NFL last season in sacks per pass play. For now, though, last year’s offensive line remains intact.

Regardless of the group’s composition, though, it must play better for the NFL’s 31st-ranked offense to emerge as a significant force. The linemen at the team’s players-only practices this week are confident it will.

ROD LAMKEY JR./THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Redskins lineman Selvish Capers (right) practices an offensive line drill during an informal workout at a Northern Virginia facility. Washington's offensive line ranked 23rd in the NFL last season in sacks per pass play.

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ROD LAMKEY JR./THE WASHINGTON TIMES Redskins lineman Selvish Capers (right) practices an ... more >

“Toward the end of last year, we started to figure out what we were trying to accomplish as an offense with the running game,” said Lichtensteiger, who won the starting left guard spot in Week 3. “I think we laid a pretty solid foundation for the upcoming year.”

If Shanahan does enter 2011 with last year’s group, he will do so at his own risk. Drafting left tackle Trent Williams fourth overall in 2010 didn’t cure the deficiencies that he inherited up front.

In addition to the Redskins‘ pass-protection woes, they ranked 30th in rushing yards per game last season and 16th in rushing yards per carry. They rushed for fewer than 60 yards in a quarter of their games.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” Lichtensteiger said. “I guess everybody kind of took their turns screwing up here and there.”

A mix of injuries and underachievement prompted Shanahan to use seven starting line combinations. It hampered the group’s chemistry and slowed its growth in the new zone-blocking scheme.

Things finally came together in Week 14 when Washington rushed for 188 yards, including 174 in the first half, in a 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay.

“There’s no reason we can’t do that kind of production every week,” right guard Will Montgomery said. “If you look at the [Denver] Broncos when Shanahan was there, that was their staple. It’s a system that works, but it also takes a little bit of time for everybody to get on the same page.”

Last year’s experiences, then, should serve as a springboard, players said.

Players last season sometimes mistimed cut blocks — a staple of Shanahan’s running scheme. Hitting landmarks was another major issue, Lichtensteiger said. The system often requires linemen to block certain parts of a defender’s body — an inside or outside shoulder, perhaps — and precision is essential.

“I think we’re just understanding landmarks and the kind of attitude and technique that we need to have,” Lichtensteiger said. “It takes a while to do that. Certainly having no offseason this year isn’t going to help. Hopefully, we don’t regress a bit.”

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