- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

The questioning of the Washington Redskins' offensive line reached a crescendo after the Oct.20 loss at Green Bay.

Rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey was sacked six times, raising his two-game total to 13. There were injuries to Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels and veteran right guard Brenden Stai. And that Monday oft-injured guard Tre Johnson was signed off the street as a probable starter.

But instead of collapsing, the line has come through with two of its best efforts of the season. In a pair of wins that have positioned Washington for a run at the playoffs, the line yielded just two sacks and helped the run game average 4.5 and 5.0 yards a carry (mostly without star running back Stephen Davis). The offense, meanwhile, committed just two turnovers.

There are several reasons for the impressive turnaround but none more significant, in players' minds, than the continued adjustment to a new scheme.

"I think early on in the year, we had to get used to the system," Samuels said. "We're used to playing with each other, and [line] coach [Kim Helton], he's pretty much put everything together now. He's doing a good job of getting us to play."

Washington's improvement has come even as personnel has been shuffled during games, no less. Johnson has rotated with young Wilbert Brown at right guard, while in the Oct.27 win over Indianapolis, Kipp Vickers filled in at times for David Loverne.

Everyone admits it's a different setup than most teams use, but right tackle Jon Jansen believes it isn't a problem as long as the players can prepare for it.

"We know guys are going to be in and out, so there's certain things we have to do to get ready," Jansen said. "It makes us concentrate more."

And while it might be hard to believe, the process of becoming comfortable apparently occurs even as personnel changes. Samuels, for example, said he made mental progress leading up to the Colts game when young Alex Sulfsted took his spot in practice and then in the game.

"Just watching guys play throughout the year, you can get a feel for what this guy likes and what he does well and what's his weaknesses," Samuels said. "I think we're starting to learn each other and what we can do. It's coming together."

Of course, there are more tangible reasons for the improvement, too, starting with the play of quarterback Shane Matthews. Although the veteran has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in each of the past two games, he has done a good job of scrambling, getting rid of the ball and protecting it. The result has been only two turnovers.

In comparison, with Ramsey playing in the Oct.13 loss to New Orleans and subsequent loss at Green Bay, Washington committed nine turnovers. Beyond his physical errors and poor decisions, Ramsey simply didn't have Matthews' overall control of the offense.

Helton believes that quality, and generally better play by other offensive players, has contributed as much as anything to the line's improvement.

"I think Shane's done a great job getting us in the right plays and in the right places," Helton said. "I think overall, in general, the whole group has played better the backs, the tight ends, the quarterback. Everybody has done a good job with the run game."

The run game, of course, is another big factor. Washington has run more than it has passed in three straight games, suppressing some of the big-play instincts of coach Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun set. Constant pass-blocking is difficult for linemen, and a healthy dose of running plays not only relieves pressure, but it can be fun.

"When you run the ball a lot, you can break their back, you can hurt their feelings," Brown said with a smile. "And when you can get them worried about the run, that slows their pass rush down."

The play of young guys like Brown, meanwhile, might be the most significant part of the line's success. Helton admits that Brown, Loverne and Sulfsted are players of modest talent, but the coach has been consistently impressed with the effort they have given.

Their effort, combined with the improved play of the line in general, is probably a big reason the unit was able to rise up from its lowest point.

"They try hard, they play hard, and at times they have played extremely well," Helton said, before adding with a laugh, "Or 'well,' I should say. Not extremely well. Extremely well, we'd be scoring 40 points, not 10."

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