Zone read gives Redskins’ offensive line new challenges

RG3’s talent creates new wrinkles for linemen to learn

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The Washington Redskins gained 459 yards against the New Orleans Saints and left the Superdome with an impressive upset victory. But the offensive linemen that plowed the way for those yards offered a lukewarm assessment of their play.

“We did all right,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “We left some stuff out there. We could’ve been better; we could’ve been a lot better in a couple areas.”

Even as Robert Griffin III put together a historic NFL debut and Alfred Morris ran for almost 100 yards, the Redskins‘ line has some serious work to do. That’s not saying it failed in New Orleans, but the near future is all about learning.

The new zone-read elements of the Redskins‘ offense changes the game. Not knowing whether Griffin or the tailback will carry the ball isn’t the same thing as just run-blocking.

“I think we’re still figuring out where the ball’s supposed to hit and kind of adjusting our block accordingly, whether it’s just continuing to drive a guy off the ball or to try to seal him or whatever,” left guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “But I think that’s something that, even through practice this week, we’re starting to figure out a little bit more. You finally get to see it on tape and see exactly what adjustments you need to make.”

Right guard Chris Chester said most linemen haven’t done that kind of stuff since college. At Oklahoma with pocket quarterback Sam Bradford, whom the Redskins will see Sunday, Williams didn’t do any of that. In high school, he blocked for the triple option.

Williams said he and the rest of the offensive line practiced zone-read blocking throughout training camp so they were prepared.

“They always kept us fresh on it, kept adding new wrinkles to it. It was second nature once we got out there,” he said. “We knew we were going to use it a bunch in New Orleans; we knew it would be a big part of our game plan because they haven’t seen it before.”

But one training camp isn’t enough to learn the intricacies of this system.

“We’ve just got to kind of get used to some of the landmarks and where plays are going to hit and what to anticipate that a defense is going to do,” Chester said. “Linebackers play a little bit different because they’re watching the running back and the quarterback as well. So sometimes they go right to the quarterback, sometimes they go right to the running back. You just to have to get used to that.”

One of the things the offensive line wants to do better is opening bigger holes for Morris, Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster.

Morris probably could have had some more extended runs with better blocks. The rookie sixth-round pick admitted he could have taken better angles, but some of the responsibility rests on the offensive line.

“Obviously there was a few plays that we only got a couple yards on vs. 4 or 5 yards on,” center Will Montgomery said. “If we take a better angle or better hand placement, whether the back’s angle was a little bit too wide or too narrow on a play, everybody has their part in fixing up a few plays here or there.”

In the passing game, Griffin presents a different challenge. He can take off and run on designed passes, so it’s up to the Redskins‘ line to keep him off the ground as much as possible when he’s in the pocket.

“That’s the name of the game as an offensive lineman is you’ve got to keep your guy off the quarterback,” right tackle Tyler Polumbus said. “So that’s your No. 1 job and you always focus on maintaining your block.”

Griffin’s escapability helps extends plays, but Williams said it doesn’t change how offensive linemen shift to protect him.

“Most times if he’s moving, he’s moving for a reason: He’s avoiding pressure. That’s the good thing about him is that he can avoid pressure,” he said. “He’s athletic enough to turn a 10-yard loss on a sack into a 15-yard gain.”

When Griffin is designed to take off with the ball, it’s the line’s job to pave the way. And even with the hesitancy about the zone read, at the end of the day it can be simplified.

“It’s more up the field than side-to-side,” Williams said. “But blocking is blocking.”

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