- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

Joe Bugel got a sick feeling watching his reserves play on the offensive line in the preseason opener for the Washington Redskins.

“I almost turned my back on them and threw up,” said Bugel, the Redskins’ assistant head coach/offense.

Bugel’s starters, four of whom underwent surgery in the offseason, performed well in the 19-3 loss to the Bengals on Sunday in Cincinnati.

The backups, however, struggled badly, raising fears that the Redskins are one major injury away from disaster with a second unit that consists of tackles Tyson Walter and Jon Alston, guards Ike Ndukwe and Jasper Harvey and center Mike Pucillo.

Pucillo was the only player in that group to even play a down in the NFL last season. Walter has started just once since 2002. Alston and Ndukwe, both second-year players, didn’t play at all last season. And Harvey is a rookie.

“Tyson, Mike and Ike did a nice job, but our young guys didn’t realize the speed of the game,” Bugel said. “[The Bengals] had their regulars in there. They were all lathered up, and it was here they come. Boom. Boom. Boom. There were some jailbreaks there.”

The Redskins endured a similar situation last season, when 43-year-old Ray Brown, now retired, was their only reliable reserve at guard and tackle. Backup center Cory Raymer was pressed into service at guard in the season-ending playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks following injuries to starter Randy Thomas and Brown, but he was cut in February.

The signings of Walter and Pucillo on March 24, the maturation of 2004 draft choice Jim Molinaro and the selection of guard Kili Lefotu in the seventh round in April were supposed to fix the problem.

However, Walter struggled at right guard in the Aug. 5 scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens, Molinaro underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee on Aug. 7, and Lefotu two days later was hospitalized after losing consciousness in his room.

The Redskins on Monday signed veteran tackle Spencer Folau, who was out of the NFL last season. If Folau performs well, the Redskins might survive because Bugel believes he has found the right spot for Walter, who like Pucillo and Folau, has started all over the line.

“[Walter] might become a fixture as a backup tackle,” Bugel said. “He’s a good pass blocker and he doesn’t get nervous no matter where you play him.”

Walter started the last eight games of the 2002 season for the Dallas Cowboys, but he became a virtual non-factor the next year after the hiring of coach Bill Parcells. Walter was cut by the Cowboys last summer and caught on with the Houston Texans, but he didn’t get on the field.

“I’m a pretty savvy player with pretty good technique,” said the 6-foot-4, 303-pound Walter, whose 49 starts are an Ohio State record. “I want to start, but I know my role. They’re looking for depth. I’m happy with my progress this camp, but I still have a lot to work on at tackle.”

The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Pucillo played with Redskins Robert Johnson, Jason Campbell, Carlos Rogers and Marcus Washington at Auburn and made the Buffalo Bills’ roster as a seventh-round pick in 2002. Pucillo started 12 games at right guard in 2003, played little in 2004 and moved to the Cleveland Browns, where he started six games at three spots last season.

“It’s a long season and you’ve got to have depth,” said Pucillo, who admits he can’t help but notice how the Browns are down to their fifth-string center. “I felt this was a good fit.”

Bugel said Pucillo uses his hands especially well. Walter said his new pal “has good balance and a good, low center of gravity.”

As for the 335-pound Ndukwe, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, Bugel said, “Ike is a work in progress. … He’s starting to play pretty good football. Ike can maul you, but the consistency factor hasn’t been there.”

But the consistency factor was there in Cincinnati during the starting line’s 13 plays.

“They were getting the dust blown off, but they were real sharp,” Bugel said with a grin.

Right tackle Jon Jansen, who had two surgeries on his right thumb, said, “You want to make sure that you’ve still got it.”

They do. As Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, who had a knee and elbow repaired, said “We stood up and played strong.”

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