- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2007

Left tackle Chris Samuels is out, perhaps for another three weeks. Right guard Randy Thomas still is working his way back from knee surgery in June. After a career at right tackle, Todd Wade is trying to get the hang of a left guard spot filled the previous four years by the departed Derrick Dockery.

Suddenly, Jon Jansen and Casey Rabach — who both were hurting big-time when Washington last won a game (Dec. 17 at New Orleans) — are the only reliables on the Redskins’ offensive line.

“We know Chris and Randy will be fine and whoever they plug in at left guard, whether it’s Todd or someone else, will do a fine job,” Jansen said. “In the meantime, we’re trying to generate some stability at a couple of spots.”

Jansen, the Redskins’ second-round pick out of Michigan in 1999, and Rabach, who arrived from Baltimore as a free agent in 2005, both are from the Midwest and ardent Big Ten advocates. They’re also best buddies — except for the Michigan-Wisconsin game — on a line that’s otherwise composed of Southerners.

As the Redskins prepared for Saturday’s scrimmage against the Ravens in steamy Baltimore, Jansen and Rabach were the only two players crazy enough to run wind sprints back and forth across the field an hour before action began.

Jansen, 31, hails from Clawson, Mich. (pop. 12,732), which roughly is 15 miles but a world away from Detroit. Rabach, who turns 30 next month, is from Sturgeon Bay, Wis. (pop. 9,437), where the closest city is the NFL’s smallest, Green Bay. Each attended his home state’s major university.

“Our backgrounds are similar, so there was a connection early on, and after a couple of seasons together, there’s a chemistry that grows,” Jansen said. “Our line revolves around the center and the tackles making the calls so we can help each other a lot out there.”

Jansen is married with two young kids. So is Rabach. Both would rather hunt than catch a movie. Jansen’s idea of fashion is flannel. Rabach’s is a battered Milwaukee Brewers cap. These days they often retreat to Jansen’s Winnebago in the Redskin Park parking lot.

“We have a lot of down time, so why not have a little fun with it, have the guys around and build a little team unity?” Jansen said.

With Samuels sidelined and the guards somewhat in flux, line coach Joe Bugel is counting on Jansen and Rabach to build that unity.

“Jon and Casey are the two most important guys on our team right now,” Bugel said without a hint of exaggeration. “They’re our leaders.”

That wasn’t the case just two summers ago when Jansen was coming off a year on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon and Rabach was a newcomer to the group. Thomas, usually the most vocal of the starting linemen, was more of the ringleader then.

“We’ve taken on a leadership role, helping push guys through practice,” Rabach said of the changed circumstances. “We have so much more experience in this offense than the young guys, so it’s our job to get them up to speed and make sure they’re ready when the season starts. It’s a good feeling to be able to look at a defense, know what they’re trying to stop and communicate that to the guys.”

Neither Jansen nor Rabach has been chosen for a Pro Bowl, but their coaches know how valuable they are to the Redskins.

“Casey means a lot to us,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “When people talk about [the Redskins indulging in] free agency, sometimes they ask, ‘Why do you do it?’ That’s why. Because you can get a Casey Rabach.”

While Jansen hasn’t had a fully healthy season since 2003, Bugel said he’s moving better than ever after trimming down during the offseason and predicts a big year for the longest-tenured Redskins player.

Bugel also gets emotional talking about the two playing through pain during the debacle that was the Redskins’ 5-11 season.

But the Redskins already were calling Jansen “The Rock” well before he played with two broken thumbs for most of 2005 and with a torn calf for much of 2006. And Rabach snapped with his left hand in December because his broken right hand was in a cast.

“Playing offensive line, you’re going to get banged-up, but you lead by example by playing through it,” said Jansen, who didn’t miss even a practice during his first five seasons. “I like proving I’m tougher than the next guy.”

So does Rabach, who simply said of his late-season heroics: “I loved it.”

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