- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. The Washington Redskins' offensive line has become defensive.

Protecting the quarterback has become more important than run blocking as the Redskins shift to a pass-oriented scheme under coach Steve Spurrier. After a ratio of 92 passes-to-43 runs in the 2-0 preseason start, the Fun 'N' Gun is turning the front five into bodyguards.

Forget the traditional 50-50 run-pass balance. The Redskins are going to pass regularly this season even though defenses are primed for it. Opponents who gamble with the blitz are going to be outmanned against multi-receiver sets as long as the line is able to protect the quarterback.

That's why the Redskins have spent the past five months after the first minicamp revamping the line. Tackles and center are more important in pass blocking, with guards the leaders for running plays. Fortunately, the Redskins' line strength are tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen and center Larry Moore.

However, choosing guards has become more exhausting than post-practice wind sprints. Ross Tucker is the front-runner on the right side, but Samuels' two-game absence because of a sprained ankle has muddied the left guard choice.

Rod Jones will move to tackle while Samuels recovers, but the Redskins also are preparing for the possibility of Samuels missing the Sept.8 season opener against Arizona. Jones' experience at left tackle in Cincinnati could keep him there, with Kipp Vickers becoming the left guard. Washington is also considering signing former Redskins left guard Ray Brown, who was a Pro Bowler last year with San Francisco.

Spurrier defended a line that has pass blocked better than expected in the first two games but remained open to adding another guard as the Redskins did last year with Dave Szott at camp's end.

"They're not as bad as some people think," Spurrier said. "If we find a really super player or two, we'll go for it. Other than that, we're coaching with what we've got, trying to find out what our best plays are."

The best plays are obviously short passes that gain 8 to 15 yards. The Redskins regularly peppered San Francisco and Carolina with darting routes no matter the quarterback. Washington has scored 68 points offensively with eight touchdowns passing and none rushing.

"I'm a point guy. If that's 50 passes and two runs, let the Kansas City Chiefs brag about their rushing yardage," offensive line coach Kim Helton said. "I'll take our 37 points and 450 yards [a game]. And if half of it's passing and half running, that's great. If all of it's passing, that's great."

Not that the Redskins have abandoned running back Stephen Davis after his team-record 1,432 yards last season. He carried five times in the opening 18-play drive against Carolina on Aug.10. The misleading part is that Davis' 8 yards included two short third-down conversions.

"It's hard to judge the running game in preseason when we're trying to teach pass protection first," Helton said. "When you go out there on third-and-1 and make 2, are you mad or happy? You go on about your business."

Still, the Redskins know they must be more balanced in the regular season. Even St. Louis' high-powered offense passed only 56.5 percent of the time last season, and Super Bowl champion New England threw nine more times than it ran.

"We obviously need to get both aspects going to succeed," Jansen said. "We may pass a little more than we have in the past, but we still have to run the ball or else they are just going to drop everybody back and we won't be able to [pass] either."

Jones is a better fit at left guard after opening camp on the right. The seven-year veteran likes the switch inside.

"It's a little more physical, little more straight ahead," he said. "You get to bang away. Put your head in there and have some smashmouth football."

Tucker watches reports of the team's free agent interests but seemingly has gained Helton's confidence. Still, he has become a scrapper in practice, regularly fighting defensive linemen.

"I've done decently in two preseason games, but I come out every day not only fighting for a starting job but for a place on the team," Tucker said. "If I play poorly, I could be right back where I started."

Helton has become a little more conservative about playing starters extensively in the preseason after losing Samuels. Still, he wants Jansen and Tucker to play together regularly in coming weeks.

"I'm a little skittish. You have to play 15 to 20 plays and then get out of there," Helton said. "These guys have never been with each other. You can't be a good right side if you don't practice [the right tackle] with the right guard in the game."

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