- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2004

In a perfect world, Joe Bugel wouldn’t have to think twice about how his offensive line will handle Chicago Bears sackmaster Adewale Ogunleye on Sunday afternoon. The Washington Redskins’ assistant head coach for offense would simply turn to Jon Jansen and tell the big tackle to strap on his pads and go get ‘em.

In the real world, Bugel knows that’s not possible because Jansen is nine weeks removed from season-ending Achilles’ tendon surgery. Bugel has done his best to patch the gaping hole at right tackle with a pair of veterans, Ray Brown and Kenyatta Jones. But five weeks into the season, with the Redskins reeling from a four-game losing streak, it’s becoming obvious just how much this team needs Jansen.

“Let me just say that you miss an impact player like Jon Jansen. He was an original Dirtbag,” Bugel said, referring to his 21st-century nickname for his offensive linemen. “Anytime you lose a tough guy, it’s a hurt. It’s a deep hurt.”

As right guard Randy Thomas put it, “you can’t predict what would have happened” if Jansen hadn’t ruptured his Achilles’ tendon during Washington’s first preseason game in August. The Redskins’ abysmal offense might be struggling just as much to produce yards and points.

But it’s safe to say Jansen’s presence alone would help his teammates get through a difficult time. Several observers have remarked that the Redskins — and the offensive line in particular — seem to be lacking the passion and energy that Jansen brought to the field every day.

“It’d be nice to have a steady guy over there,” Thomas said. “You can’t equal Jon Jansen.”

Washington’s coaches are quick to praise the effort they’ve gotten from Brown and Jones, who were thrust into a situation for which they weren’t prepared. Jones had previous experience at right tackle but had not started regularly in the NFL in two years. Brown had been a reliable guard for much of his 18-year pro career, but the 41-year-old hadn’t played tackle in a decade.

So it has not been surprising that Bugel has been forced to shuffle the two over the past five weeks. Jones started the season opener against Tampa Bay but, after feeling the effects of a lingering ankle injury, moved aside the following three weeks to let Brown take over. After Brown suffered a hamstring injury, Jones returned to the starting lineup last Sunday.

Brown will be back with the first-string offense this weekend in Chicago going head to head with Ogunleye, one of the league’s most intimidating left ends. Jones, who continues to deal with the ankle injury, did not practice yesterday and was downgraded from probable to questionable.

Though conceding he was a little overwhelmed his first few games as a starter, Brown said he has grown more comfortable with each passing week and is looking forward to the challenge of blocking Ogunleye.

“Bring it on,” he said. “I’ve got to get it done. We can’t have a drop-off at that position, because ultimately it affects your entire team if one guy isn’t carrying his load. So I know I have an important job over there.”

Brown has provided some leadership on a line that sorely needed it, but he hasn’t been able to completely fill Jansen’s large shoes.

Jansen had become a mainstay on the Redskins’ offensive line, not missing one start since he was drafted out of Michigan in 1999. After he went down in the first quarter of the Hall of Fame Game, he said he hoped to still play an important role on this year’s team as something of a player-coach.

But as often happens with players who suffer major injuries, Jansen has had little presence around Redskin Park. He shows up most mornings to undergo rehab but usually is gone before most of the daily action gets under way.

During games, Jansen chooses to watch from afar. Rather than hobble along the sideline on his surgically repaired foot, he takes a seat in the press box, getting a bird’s-eye view of Washington’s offense.

“I had a long talk with him last week,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “I felt bad for him — he’s just really emotionally hurt. I think it’s hard for him to be around here, because he misses it so much and he can’t play.”

Even from his distant vantage point, though, Jansen continues to have some influence on the Redskins. He talks with his teammates whenever he can, offering advice or just casual conversation.

Above all, teammates say he’s tried to maintain a positive attitude. If anyone starts feeling sorry for him, Jansen quickly sets him straight.

“Jon wants us to worry about football,” Thomas said. “He doesn’t want us worrying about him. More than anything, he wants us to win.”

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