- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2015

RICHMOND — Josh LeRibeus practiced snapping a football to Kirk Cousins near the goal line during the Washington Redskins training camp practice session on Tuesday. While the rest of the offensive linemen were running drills against the defense, LeRibeus snapped the ball, over and over, to Cousins.

At one point, Cousins called him back, demonstrating the way to place his hand on the football before LeRibeus put his hand down once again. The next time he did, LeRibeus had his thumb on the laces instead of his fingers.

“They actually had me do a little different snap today to get it back to their hand a little different,” LeRibeus said. “I’m like, ‘Well, you could have told me that three months ago!’ But no, it’s fine, it’s going well.”

LeRibeus is making up for some lost time. Three years ago, as a rookie, then-coach Mike Shanahan told him that he would never play center and was, as LeRibeus put it, “just a guard.” Though he had been drafted in the third round with the intention that he could play either position, Shanahan quickly lost faith in LeRibeus‘ ability to play center.

Three years later, with Jay Gruden now at the helm, offensive line coach Bill Callahan reversed that call.

“I literally didn’t touch the ball for like two years, I didn’t ever think it was going to happen,” LeRibeus said. “And then a week after OTAs started, Callahan was like, ‘All right, you’re a center now,’ And I was like, ‘Well, all right, here we go, it’s been fun.’”

Playing center has increased his value to the team because he can take reps at both center and at both guard positions.

His path to making the 53-man roster got a little easier when the team released starting right guard Chris Chester in June. Chester also served as the team’s backup center.

“We are trying to balance out the board, trying to get as much exposure as we can, build our depth, and just have those contingencies in place when you need them, because they are forthcoming,” Callahan said earlier in training camp. “Injuries happen, they occur, and the more a player can do, the more versatile he is and the more position flex he’s got, the better served we are.”

LeRibeus has played at both positions during training camp, usually taking reps with the second string. He’s spent time with the starters when starting center Kory Lichtensteiger is given a day to rest, which happened twice in the first 11 days.

He’s also still learning how to play center. LeRibeus said that the first time anyone ever asked him to snap a football was when he was preparing for the draft.

“I didn’t touch the ball in college,” LeRibeus said. “First time I even touched it was, I think, Cleveland’s offensive line coach came over and had me snap the ball. I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing! But OK, here we go.’”

“He was like, ‘Get it back further!’ And I was like, ‘OK, yeah, I’m just a little rusty,’” LeRibeus said, chuckling.

Most of what he has to learn is in the playbook, memorizing calls and recognizing different fronts. Twice during drills on Tuesday, LeRibeus hesitated before he snapped the ball, not getting it out of his hand fast enough for the quarterback.

But Gruden said that he is happy with the progress he has seen from LeRibeus and is giving him time to adapt before getting too critical.

“It’s a tough position, man,” Gruden said earlier in training camp. “There’s a lot of calls and a lot of things a center has to take care of pre-snap. It’s brand new to him, let alone the snaps and the shotgun snaps have been efficient.”

One thing LeRibeus has going for him is that he fits the system that Gruden, Callahan and general manager Scot McCloughan want to run, with additional power and fewer zone-blocking schemes. At 6-foot-2 and 315 pounds, he’s physically suited for that kind of offense, one of the first times that LeRibeus‘ body has worked in his favor.

LeRibeus appeared in five games during his rookie season but missed all of 2013 due to struggles with his weight. When he showed up to camp he was 30 pounds too heavy with his athleticism badly diminished.

Then, in February 2014, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease which causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. Three games into last season he got a stomach infection that caused him to lose 25 pounds and struggle with his weight all year.

Going into this season, LeRibeus has played in just 12 NFL games and has started one. He is also entering the final year of his rookie contract, so the pressure is on to show the team that he was worth the third-round pick they spent on him in 2012.

“I want to be a starter but if that can’t happen, obviously, just finding my role,” LeRibeus said. “Right now, I’m liking center. And just getting to know as much of the offense as possible to be ready when the time comes.”

Now that he is healthy, has gotten his weight back up, and feels like his team is dedicated to developing him, all signs point to LeRibeus‘ time coming this season.

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