- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

The Washington Redskins' interior offensive line gained definition yesterday as the club signed free agent Rod Jones to start at right guard and indications emerged that a left-side starter could be selected in the first round of the draft.

Jones, 28, signed a three-year deal that could be worth $4million with playing-time incentives. It included a $500,000 signing bonus.

Last season Jones played as a reserve tackle for the St. Louis Rams, starting once during the regular season and three more times in the postseason. His first five seasons came with the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted him in the seventh round out of Kansas in 1996.

Jones played mostly left tackle for Cincinnati along with some left guard, but his massive frame (6-foot-4, 330 pounds) fits well at right guard. The Redskins started another former left tackle, Ben Coleman, at right guard last year. Coleman performed well when his knee wasn't bothering him but is a free agent who appears unlikely to return.

Jones is eager to join coach Steve Spurrier's scheme after playing in the Rams' high-powered offense. He started each of St. Louis' playoff games, including Super Bowl XXXVI, after Ryan Tucker sprained an ankle. Jones played well in that stretch but had a key blown assignment in the title-game loss that led to an interception returned for a touchdown.

St. Louis made an offer to Jones similar to the one he accepted from Washington. With the Rams, Jones would have had a chance to start in place of departed Tucker, but he said he accepted the Redskins' offer because he felt comfortable with the club.

Washington lost its 2001 left guard, Dave Szott, to the New York Jets in free agency. Two 2001 rookies, Ross Tucker and Alex Sulfsted, lined up as first-string during last week's three-day minicamp.

The Redskins are considering several other free-agent guards, including Atlanta's Bob Hallen, but apparently are offering deals only around the minimum.

Meanwhile, some in the NFL believe the Redskins are eyeing Auburn guard Kendall Simmons with their top pick, No.18 overall. Selecting a guard so early would defy convention, because the position gets little priority, but might make sense for Washington because so many prospects at defensive tackle, the club's other key vacancy, are expected to go early.

Simmons (6-2, 310) began his Auburn career at guard but evolved into a solid left tackle. He projects back to guard because he does not have the rangy body that NFL clubs seek in tackles. He is a compact, powerful blocker who is trying to add about 30 pounds. Current projections have him in the late first or early second round.

The draft's top guard is Nebraska's Toniu Fonoti, a bruiser at 6-4, 350. But he might be gone by the time Washington selects, or the Redskins might opt against him because he didn't do much pass protection for the Cornhuskers. Colorado's Andre Gurode is another potential first-rounder.

The Redskins also might be interested in Tennessee guard Fred Weary, who relies more on technique and is pegged for the second round. Spurrier and a contingent that included offensive line coach Kim Helton attended Tennessee's pro day last month. Weary (6-4, 301) might be available when the Redskins select 52nd overall.

The draft's top four defensive tackles Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth and John Henderson, Wisconsin's Wendell Bryant and North Carolina's Ryan Sims are expected to go in the first dozen picks or so. Thus Washington might be better off focusing on guard, safety and wide receiver. Safety is another position that receives little emphasis, and a starter might be found in the second round.

Washington returns strong safety Sam Shade and free safety David Terrell, but the club is looking to upgrade. It has been talking to free agent Corey Harris, who would fit in Shade's spot.

The Redskins recently signed free-agent defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn, who can play each line position but is expected to replace Marco Coleman at left end. That leaves Kenard Lang's tackle spot open. Washington was interested in free agent Steve Martin but he was close to an agreement yesterday with another club. The Redskins are interested in Brandon Mitchell and are one of six clubs who were faxed contract proposals this week by agent Jeff Durand.

Backup running back is another slot the Redskins are addressing in free agency. The club made Ki-Jana Carter a minimum-salary offer to re-sign but now seems to be focusing on Green Bay's Dorsey Levens.

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