- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

The Washington Redskins have spent eight years trying to recapture the stability of the Hogs. A ninth isn't needed.

The Redskins can either return the offensive line intact for the first time since 1993 or force yet another round of changes. Guards Ben Coleman and Dave Szott and center Cory Raymer are unrestricted free agents, leaving only tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels as sure returners for next season. While the tackles are considered cornerstones, the interior line has led the offensive improvement after struggling to mesh during the 0-5 start.

All three veterans want to return. Szott seems the most probable, though all are possible. However, the Redskins also have young prospects in center David Brandt, guard Alex Sulfsted and tackle Ross Tucker, and veteran guard Matt Campbell.

The Redskins must decide whether the current line that has become an effective run blocking unit is worth re-signing when free agency begins March1. Does stability outweigh potential?

The interior line has been solid over the season's second half. Coleman returned from a preseason knee injury in Week 6 just as Szott and Raymer began acclimating from major injuries last year. The sputtering passing game was replaced by running back Stephen Davis and an offense threatening to break the team's lowest scoring season since the NFL expanded to 16 games finally started finding the end zone.

Davis and his linemen emerged from the disappointing start with respect. Now they want another year to progress.

"It's big because now we know each other, the system," Coleman said. "Next year during training camp, we're doing those things to get better, not learning how to play with each other. It's important."

Said Samuels: "If we stay together we can be as good as we want to be."

It's the simple things, like which grunts indicate blocking scheme changes when approaching the line, that meshed the unit.

"The three guys inside are unsung because of the preeminence of the tackles," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "Just give them a chance to become familiar with each other. So much that goes on are guys grunting [signals]. When you haven't developed the ability to communicate it the way you need it to if things are off a little bit it's hard to be effective."

Szott said Kansas City's 1995 line, which helped the Chiefs lead the AFC in rushing and fewest sacks allowed, was the best he played on until this year.

"We would have put up better numbers if we had committed to the run earlier," Szott said. "We work in concert so much together that it takes time. We had lots of experience, but were new to each other."

Szott nearly retired before joining the team at the end of training camp. Now he hopes to sign a multi-year deal and move his family to Washington.

"[Retirement] was something I struggled with because I still wanted to play, so something deep down said it wasn't time to move on yet," Szott said.

Raymer has spent seven seasons with Washington since being drafted in the second round in 1995. The Wisconsin native has matured from a rookie sharing an apartment where pizza boxes nearly reached the ceiling to a family man that wants to remain settled.

"Before, this was a home away from home, but now when I leave here I can't wait to come back, so I consider it home now," Raymer said. "It would be hard to imagine leaving. I didn't want to be one of those guys that went from team to team."

Meanwhile, the line has one goal before possibly splitting help Davis break his single-season team record of 1,405 yards rushing. Davis needs 122 against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday to set the mark that linemen consider a personal accomplishment.

"You have to have goals and that's definitely a goal," Szott said. "As offensive linemen, sacks allowed and yards rushing are our goals."

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