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Redskins’ needs go beyond franchise quarterback

Focus may shift to offensive line

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2012

The Washington Redskins will address the franchise's greatest need Thursday night when they use the second-overall draft pick to select a quarterback, almost certainly Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Don't be surprised to hear choruses of "Hallelujah!" echo through the area around 8:30 p.m.

Griffin's electrifying athleticism and lauded throwing ability would invigorate an offense that has suffered from a staggering level of instability at quarterback for the past two decades. Washington, however, didn't finish 5-11 last season because it lacked only an elite passer. Significant holes remain on both sides of the ball.

The Redskins traded their second-round pick to St. Louis as part of the package to move up from the sixth-overall pick, so they must shrewdly use their remaining six selections in Rounds 3 through 7. Coach Mike Shanahan has selected impact players such as linebacker Perry Riley and running back Roy Helu on the third day of the draft, so he has found value in the later rounds.

Here's a look at the Redskins' greatest needs entering the draft:

Offensive line

The Redskins have in place the same five starting offensive linemen who began the 2011 season. Injuries and insufficient depth up front were major reasons why the Redskins' offense ranked 26th out of 32 NFL teams in points per game (18.0) last season.

Fortifying the line would not only afford the quarterback more time to make accurate throws, it also would enable the Redskins to emphasize the running game and take the ball out of the rookie quarterback's hand.

Right tackle is the biggest problem area. Incumbent Jammal Brown's hip and groin injuries limited his mobility in 2011, and that's a deal-breaker in Shanahan's system. Brown, 31, is taking Yoga classes this offseason to improve his flexibility, which isn't exactly a promising sign.

Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger steadily improved since moving there from center before the 2010 season, but he is coming off a devastating knee injury suffered last Oct. 16. He is expected to be healthy in time for training camp, but his fitness will remain an issue until he proves it's not. Lichtensteiger's greatest assets are speed and agility in space, so a knee problem is especially detrimental.

Center Will Montgomery re-signed before he became an unrestricted free agent, and he's a fine option. He is one of the strongest players on the team, and it shows in how he anchors in pass protection. Inconsistency is an issue, though, so the Redskins could target his replacement and utilize Montgomery as a swing guard/center who provides depth. The problem with that, however, is Montgomery struggled at left guard last October after Lichtensteiger went down.

At the very least, expect Shanahan to intensify the competition along the line by adding two or three late-round picks.

Secondary

The Redskins prioritized keeping their front seven intact this offseason, re-signing free agent linebacker London Fletcher and defensive end Adam Carriker. In contrast, there has been significant turnover in the defensive backfield.

Both first-string safeties in 2011, LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe, are gone. Fourth cornerback Byron Westbrook was allowed to become an unrestricted free agent, and he remains unsigned.

The Redskins have added inexpensive veterans in free agency, such as safeties Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson and cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Leigh Torrence. They are stopgaps, though.

DeJon Gomes, a fifth-round pick last year, remains an intriguing prospect, but it'd be tough to dispute Shanahan if he used this year's third-rounder on a safety.

Running back

Not only do the Redskins need an elite running back, but, as they proved last year, a team can never have enough depth at the position. Remember that Washington barely got through the season-ending loss to Philadelphia. Tim Hightower suffered a season-ending left ACL tear Oct. 24, rookie fourth-rounder Roy Helu had lower body injuries late in the year and sixth-round rookie Evan Royster suffered from full body cramps in the last game.

Hightower is the best of the bunch, but his effectiveness coming off the injury remains uncertain. He is an unsigned free agent. Helu and Royster are capable, but they aren't complete backs. Helu is best suited to a third-down role, and Royster lacks elite speed. Shanahan might have to wait until next year to acquire a game-breaking back, but expect him to try to strike gold in the late rounds, as he did with Terrell Davis in the sixth round in 1995 in Denver.

Note: Free agent linebacker Bryan Kehl signed with Washington. Kehl has played in 59 games, including five starts, for the St. Louis Rams and the New York Giants.

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