- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 28, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. The Washington Redskins are rebuilding their offensive line once again.
Eight guards have started over the past two years and 14 since 1996, when the Redskins last saw both guards play 15 games. Tre Johnson couldn't stay healthy between Pro Bowl flashes. Keith Sims suffered a career-ending heel injury trying to gut out the 2000 season. David Brandt walked away after reporting Monday, deciding he no longer wanted to play after just one year.
The team doesn't even have one starter back from last year among its middle three linemen. Dave Szott became only the second guard to play 16 games since 1996 before departing. Ben Coleman, Matt Campbell and Brandt also didn't return. Neither did centers Cory Raymer and Mark Fischer.
Oddly, Washington didn't draft a guard in the first three rounds this year, although several leading prospects were available. The Redskins never seriously considered using their first-rounder on a guard after trading down twice to No.32 overall. Several front office officials felt quarterback Patrick Ramsey was too good to pass up in the first round, though he remains unsigned and is not expected to start this year.
Now the Redskins are desperately sorting through their collection of untested interior linemen. Only Kipp Vickers has started briefly at guard (in Baltimore). Ironically, center Larry Moore made 21 starts at guard before joining Washington this season.
"I don't know who the guards are on the football team yet," offensive line coach Kim Helton said. "They're all the same right now. I think they're the right kind of people who compete hard, but at some point we're going to have some decisions because there's not a clear separation."
The Redskins already have reworked the opening lineup of David Loverne on the left side and Rod Jones on the right in practice. Loverne will miss a week with a sprained elbow, and Jones has struggled in converting from tackle, prompting a move to the left side. The Redskins hoped the massive Jones (6-foot-5, 355 pounds) could plow the primary lane for Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis.
"He's trying to learn to be a guard. He hasn't yet," Helton said. "In all fairness, he's always been a tackle, and there are so many more variables and changes at guard."
Vickers, who was a backup tackle during his 1998-1999 stint with Washington, is now getting a look at right guard. Vickers won a Super Bowl ring with Baltimore in 2000 and could quietly fill the role.
Ross Tucker played only special teams and Alex Sulfsted saw no time as rookies last year, yet either could start. Tucker has been used everywhere but left tackle during practice; Helton admits the former Princeton guard's versatility hurts his chances of becoming a starter, but the Redskins feel he can fill in anywhere, much like Ray Brown and Raleigh McKenzie did in the early 1990s.
"That becomes unfair to Ross because he can't isolate on [one position to] be very good," Helton said. "He wants to be the starting right guard, not the backup right tackle or guard. I'm not afraid to put Ross Tucker in the game."
Tucker has been a sleeper since making the team as a rookie free agent. Former coach Marty Schottenheimer thought he had found a potential starter. The preseason opener against San Francisco on Aug.3 could show where the Redskins most like Tucker, or it may simply be a well-rounded tryout.
"I could play two quarters at center and one at right tackle, or play the whole game at left guard," Tucker said. "If I'm getting the job done at three positions I don't see how I can't fit in somewhere."
The Redskins have long raved about cornerstone tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels, who are arguably the NFL's best young tandem. Samuels reached the Pro Bowl last year in his second season, and Jansen is often considered overlooked for honors despite 50 straight starts and his manhandling of some of the best opposing defensive ends.
The pair simply view changing linemates as normal. It means sometimes having to help guards overpowered by bigger defensive tackles while preventing speedy ends from getting outside to the quarterback.
"Chris and I are used to switching with guys," Jansen said. "It's going to take time. We have to take advantage of all these practices and preseason games to get the flow going."
Said Samuels: "Every year it seems we change the middle and that's tough to deal with, but we have to move on."
And why not. After all, the Redskins keep moving on to new guards each season.


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