INDIANAPOLIS — The night two Aprils ago when Mike Shanahan made Trent Williams the first player he ever drafted as the Washington Redskins' head coach and top decision maker, he clarified the leading requirements for an offensive lineman in his system.
Williams, an All-American from the University of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State's Russell Okung were the top left tackles in that draft. Williams ran the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in 4.88 seconds. Okung clocked in at 5.18 seconds. That disparity helped Shanahan make his decision.
"There's not many athletes who are 315 pounds that can run in that 4.8 range and show the type of athleticism that we look for," Shanahan said of Williams that night.
Shanahan desires — make that requires — fast, athletic offensive linemen because his offensive system relies heavily on zone blocking and screen passes. Offensive linemen must effectively play in space and be nimble.
Keep those requirements in mind as the Redskins evaluate prospects at the NFL scouting combine this week. Offensive linemen were among the first position groups to begin the process Wednesday night. Many underwent medical examinations and met with reporters Thursday.
On Saturday they will take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for workouts — perhaps the most amusing part of the combine. After all, who doesn't love seeing 300-pounders sprint long distances?
It won't necessarily be pretty, but these linemen understand the significance of posting a fast 40-yard dash time, especially with coaches such as Shanahan watching.
"It's really important," said Southern California All-American Matt Khalil, who widely is expected to be among the top picks in the draft. "Coaches want to see how well you can run, how fluid an athlete you are. I think it's definitely important, more so the 10-yard to 20-yard range, because that's more realistic of going from a linebacker to a safety. But it's really important to show off your athleticism."
Wisconsin's Josh Oglesby knows it's especially important for him. The vertical scar that runs the length of his left knee is proof.
Multiple knee surgeries, including an ACL reconstruction, during his collegiate career downsized one of the country's most touted college recruits into an underdog entering the NFL's predraft process. His training for the combine centered on speed and agility.
"Because our position is more technical skill versus just raw ability, I think watching footwork and different movement drills are more important for our group than others," Oglesby said.
Athleticism — or a lack of it — is the main reason why the Redskins could select a tackle in the early rounds.
Shanahan has said right tackle Jammal Brown must prove his left hip is healthy and fluidly run in order for him to make the Redskins' roster in 2012. Considering Brown's hip continues to be problematic more than two years removed from surgery to repair a torn labrum, there is major uncertainty at the position.
The Redskins could use the sixth-overall pick to draft a right tackle, but teams historically don't value right tackles so highly.
The Dallas Cowboys, however, drafted Southern California right tackle Tyron Smith with the ninth-overall pick last year. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett explained the thinking behind it..
"Pass rushers don't only come from that one side," Garrett said. "They come from the other side, too, and they come from down the middle ... so you have to be good across the board up front. Certainly the tackle positions are the ones that get the marquee rushers more than anybody else. So whether it's on the left side or right side, you better be good over there because you're going to get challenged."
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