- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

As Jon Jansen was undergoing surgery yesterday, so was the Redskins’ offensive line. Dr. Joe Bugel performed the delicate procedure, grafting Kenyatta Jones onto the right tackle spot previously occupied by No.76. Now we’ll just have to see if it takes — or if Buges has to try something else.

Like Lourdes.

The Redskins’ victory over Denver in Joe Gibbs’ return to the NFL came at a high price: a season-ending injury to a key player. Worse, the injury hit them where they live — in the offensive line. Dominating O-lines have always been the spines of Coach Joe’s clubs, and Jansen was particularly valued for his toughness, professionalism and leadership. He also happened to be the guy who stood in the way of Michael Strahan, the Giants’ menacing defensive end.

Still, there’s been a little too much gloom and doom in Redskinsland since Jansen went down with a torn Achilles’. Jon’s a fine player, don’t get me wrong, but if his absence sabotages the season … then the Redskins can’t have much of a team. Besides, Bugel’s reputation as an offensive line oracle stems as much from his ability to “make do” in times of crisis as from his schooling of Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic et al.

We tend to remember the First Gibbs Era, 1981 to 1992, as a fairly smooth ride. Gibbs certainly does. “We were just talking about that,” he said yesterday. To him and his staff, “It’s almost like we kept all our guys healthy all the time.” That was hardly the case, however. Minor catastrophes like this popped fairly regularly, especially in the O-line. Practically every year after 1983, at least one offensive lineman missed a sizable chunk of the season — and Buges had to do one of his patch jobs.

You think the Redskins are in a bind now because they’re having to turn to Jones? Heck’s that’s nothing. Kenyatta at least has some starting experience in the league (11 games’ worth two years ago with the Patriots). In 1987, one of their Super Bowl seasons, the Redskins were forced to start Ed Simmons, a rookie sixth-round pick, in the opener because Mark May’s knee got mangled in camp. And who did Simmons, fresh from Division I-AA, have to block that afternoon? None other than Reggie White, the “Minister of Defense.”

Early in the game, White sent Washington quarterback Jay Schroeder to the sideline with a sprained right shoulder. The Redskins persevered, though, winning 34-24 — and Schroeder’s injury opened the door for Doug Williams to become Super Bowl MVP.

Just to refresh Coach Joe’s memory — and everybody else’s:

In ‘84, Bostic blew out his knee and missed the second half of the season.

In ‘85, Jacoby was out the last five games with a sprained knee.

In ‘87, after May went down, Russ Grimm suffered a partially torn knee ligament that cost him 10 games.

In ‘88, Grimm tore knee cartilage in camp and didn’t return until Week 12.

In ‘89, May messed up his knee and sat out the last seven games; Jacoby did likewise and sat out the last six.

The latter was Bugel’s last season … and perhaps his finest hour. In Week 10 — once again against the vaunted Eagles defense — he had to start a rookie 10th-round pick, a total unknown named Mark Schlereth. Schlereth survived that day, the Redskins escaped with an improbable victory, and then they proceeded to win five of their last six to finish 10-6 (just missing the playoffs).

“[Jones has] big shoes to fill,” Bugel said. “That’s a huge loss for us. But we’ve got to keep pushin’ on, and the guys understand that. You’ve gotta just pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.”

It’s so strange that the Redskins have brought back Ray Brown to fill Jansen’s roster spot — if not his starting position. Ray, after all, was part of the golden era of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. (His first season with the team was the one in which “Stinky” Schlereth got thrown to the wolves.) The league was so different back then. A developmental type like Brown could be stashed on injured reserve for a couple of years, and no one would say boo about it.

“That’s probably why I’m standing here today [at age 41],” he said with a smile. “I had 2 years off [while on IR]. We used to carry 16 offensive linemen [on the active roster and the IR “taxi squad”]. Now there are 10 or 11.”

Stashing made it easier for a contender like the Redskins to develop quality depth, to make the club more injury-resistant. (Now that there’s full-blown free agency, of course, teams can’t play keep-away with prospects.) The Redskins also had their share of high-priced veteran backups in those pre-salary cap days to fill the void if a regular was lost. Two such vets on the offensive line were Ken Huff and Mark Adickes.

Today’s backups tend to be younger, cheaper players, players like Kenyatta Jones. Which is why Bugel took him aside after yesterday’s practice and went over some technique things, gave him some individual attention. Jansen was out, Jones was in, and it was time for Buges to work some more of his magic.

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