- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

The starting right tackle suffered a season-ending injury in the first quarter of the first preseason game. He was replaced by a fourth-year veteran whose only previous claim to fame was getting arrested for throwing scalding water on his personal assistant.

The starting left tackle sprained his ankle two weeks ago. He was replaced by a rookie sixth-round draft pick.

The starting right guard missed the last two preseason games with a strained neck. He was replaced by a 41-year-old journeyman who began his career in 1986 with the Cardinals — the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yet with all the shuffling and the mixing and the matching on the Washington Redskins’ offensive line, the unit collectively had a standout preseason and enters Sunday’s opener against Tampa Bay with cautious optimism.

“I think we’ve showed what we’re capable of doing,” tackle Kenyatta Jones said. “We’re not committing a lot of mistakes that you’d think a line that’s been discombobulated would commit.”

Quite the contrary. Despite the loss of Jon Jansen to a season-ending Achilles’ tendon rupture, and the nagging injuries faced by Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas, the Redskins’ offensive line held its own during a five-game preseason slate. The team wound up surrendering a league-low three sacks, despite playing one more exhibition game than 30 other clubs.

The line’s performance is all the more impressive considering the heat the unit took last year after giving up 43 sacks in the regular season and watching quarterback Patrick Ramsey get treated like a tackling dummy.

“They’ve done a great job in pass protection,” assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel said. “Even though it’s preseason, being No.1 in that category makes us feel awfully proud, because we did a lot of hard work on pass play. This goes back to the hot summer days when we were in our underwear out there beating the heck out of each other. It’s a tribute to the players.”

Actually, according to the players, one man has been responsible for keeping things together through what could have been disheartening times.

“The Buges, man, the Buges,” Jones said, referring to the 64-year-old offensive line guru. “It’s unexplainable how he works through everything.”

To a man, members of Washington’s offensive line attribute their success to Bugel, the one-time founder of the Hogs who came out of retirement with coach Joe Gibbs to re-instill his magic.

Bugel, who has dubbed his new crop of linemen the Dirtbags, seems to have left a lasting impression on each of his players. In some cases, it has come on the field in his teaching methods. In others, it’s come off the field in his ability to communicate.

“I think it’s a little bit of everything, from teaching to technique to motivation, respect,” Samuels said. “He has it all, and I’m glad to have him as my coach.”

Bugel perhaps faced no more daunting challenge than the loss of Jansen during the first quarter of the Hall of Fame Game against Denver. The coach admitted having tears in his eyes when he spotted Jansen, one of his favorite players, on crutches following the game.

The tears quickly subsided, though, as Bugel immediately turned his attention toward rebuilding his line.

His first step was to tab Jones as Jansen’s replacement at right tackle. A one-time starter in New England, Jones came to Washington late last season trying to revive his career following his arrest for assaulting personal assistant Mark Paul. He’s since solidified his position with the Redskins, and credits Bugel for helping make it happen.

“He takes his time to make sure you know everything,” Jones said. “It’s the same thing any other coach would do, there’s just something about him that makes you want to do it. You don’t want to let him down because you know he doesn’t want to let you down.”

Jones actually became one of the few mainstays on the offensive line during the preseason, one of three guys — with left guard Derrick Dockery and center Lennie Friedman — to start all five games. (Jones started the first game at right guard before moving to right tackle.)

The other two positions, left tackle and right guard, weren’t expected to be problem areas. Samuels and Thomas are two of the most reliable linemen in the game, but each missed time during the preseason with injuries.

Without blinking, Bugel turned to a pair of backups, 41-year-old guard Ray Brown, and 23-year-old tackle Jim Molinaro. The odd couple duo melded seamlessly with the rest of the line in last week’s 27-0 win over the Falcons, with Molinaro (a sixth-round pick) in particular earning raves from coaches and teammates.

“He’s had some good days and some bad days, but he never got down on himself,” Samuels said of his rookie backup. “He just stayed encouraged and kept fighting, and I admire him for that.”

Gibbs and Bugel have done their best to keep all of their linemen, young and old, from being left alone on an island. Nearly every pass-blocking scheme in the Redskins’ arsenal utilizes a tight end, a running back or even a wide receiver for added protection.

“The way people are playing right now, they’re blitzing eight or nine people at you,” Bugel said. “Everybody’s storming the castle. You have to have good protection schemes, or else the quarterback can get really blown up in this league.”

Something the Redskins know all too well. Under ex-coach Steve Spurrier, who was often criticized for trying to stop six, seven or eight defenders with only five blockers, Washington’s quarterbacks were under constant pressure the last two years.

From the moment Gibbs and Bugel arrived in town last winter, Redskins linemen knew things were going to change for the better.

“The emphasis is on protecting the quarterback first,” Samuels said. “We’re not afraid to send two receivers out on a route. A lot of teams want to send five guys out and spread the field and make everything look all pretty. I like what [Gibbs and Bugel are] doing. They protect the quarterback, and the emphasis is to start up the running game first. That’s an offensive lineman’s dream.”

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