Things got pretty rough for the Washington Redskins‘ offensive line last season. If one more guy had gotten hurt or suspended, the team might have held a seance and tried to contact the spirit of Turk Edwards.
All told, 10 linemen started at least two games. Some of them, such as Tyler Polumbus (signed off the street) and rookies Mo Hurt and Willie Smith (graduates of the practice squad), weren’t even on the active roster in Week 1. With Kory Lichtensteiger, Trent Williams and Jammal Brown all missing significant time, it was just a fire drill from beginning to end, lowlighted by that day against Buffalo when John Beck was reduced to a chalk outline on the carpet. (Read: 10 sacks, most in franchise history.)
Nobody wants a repeat of that this year — another season, that is, in which the Redskins have dangerously little depth in the O-line. That’s why Mike Shanahan took three linemen in the first six rounds of the draft: guards Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis and tackle Tom Compton. When Lichtensteiger blew out his knee last October, there was no backup guard to replace him; Shanny was compelled to slide Will Montgomery over from center, thereby weakening two spots. That won’t happen again. The line has the requisite bodies now.
Let’s face it, there’s so much more at stake this season. The Redskins have gone to great lengths to acquire their Quarterback for the Next Decade, Robert Griffin III, and they need to protect their investment. And what better way to do that than by firming up the line and making sure there’s a Plan B at every position — and even a Plan C if necessary. Granted, the kid’s as elusive as Sasquatch, but there’s still a target on his back.
So it’s not exactly welcome news that (a) Lichtensteiger might miss the entire preseason after having a second surgery on his right knee and (b) Brown has been put on the Physically Unable to Perform list with not one but two troublesome hips. It’s especially not good that Shanahan keeps using the word “hopefully” when he discusses them, as in: “Hopefully, [Kory will] be ready for the first [regular-season] game.” Team after NFL team, after all, has crashed on the rocks of Hopefully.
“Jammal and Kory are big pieces of our offense,” Hurt said after the Thursday morning walk-through. “We’d definitely like to have them back. But we all have the mentality of: Pick up the rifle when another man drops it. You don’t want the level of play to drop off when your number is called.”
It might not be such a big deal if the Redskins weren’t facing a murderer’s row of pass rushers this season. No joke: Six of last year’s top seven sack men are on their schedule, several of them more than once. I’m talking about Jared Allen (22 sacks), DeMarcus Ware (19.5), Jason Babin (18), Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5), Terrell Suggs (14) and Chris Long (13). (Though Suggs is currently PUP while he rehabs a torn Achilles.)
The list of hazards doesn’t stop there. The Redskins also will have to contend with such nasties as Trent Cole, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, John Abraham — everybody but Grendel. It’s enough to make a quarterback take out term life insurance.
“That’s why they pay you the big bucks, man,” Williams said. “That’s why the drafted me No. 4 overall — to try to take some of the pressure off the backside.”
Fortunately, Trent is having a strong camp following his four-game, season-ending suspension last December for a positive drug test. It’s comforting, too, that pass rushers won’t just be able to tee off on Griffin the way they did on Rex Grossman. They’ll have to find him first. So whatever issues the Redskins might have up front, they should be lessened somewhat by RG3’s ability to skitter away from trouble and either find an open receiver or take off downfield. Opponents won’t be able to blitz him with impunity.
“Robert can keep the play going longer than average quarterbacks,” Hurt said. “He can make spectacular plays. I played with [Tim] Tebow in college [at Florida], and he was capable of a lot of the same things. He’s always looking to make a play when things break down in the passing game.”
A year ago, things broke down too often for the Redskins. Wisely, they’ve made some moves to address that (see above). But Lichtensteiger and Brown aren’t on the field right now, and it’s still uncertain when they’ll return — or how effective they’ll be when they do. And so you wonder.