- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2008

It will go unnoticed by most, but Casey Rabach will be an important figure for the Redskins this week.

For the third time in seven games, the center will line up against a 3-4 defense, which means a different and more physically demanding role.

Against a conventional 4-3 scheme, Rabach generally doesn’t have a defender directly opposite him. Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen block the ends. Pete Kendall and Randy Thomas block the tackles. Rabach can make the line call, snap the ball and then figure where he’s needed most. But against Baltimore (8-4) and its 3-4 defense, which Washington (7-5) visits Sunday night, the center has to take on a nose tackle on most plays.

“Casey knows what he has to do,” offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. “He has to play low, low, low to the ground. You’ve got to get your pad level down, or you’ll be in the quarterback’s mustache. It’s a challenge, but if your center can’t block one-on-one, you’ve got a lot of problems. Casey’s playing at a high level. He’s having his best season.”

Indeed, the 31-year-old is getting serious Pro Bowl consideration for the first time. Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata outweighs the 6-foot-4, 296-pound Rabach by 44 pounds. So did Cleveland’s Shaun Rogers in Week 7. Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton, whom Rabach faced in Week 9, had him by 25 pounds.

“The way that you beat guys that outweigh you or outmatch you in terms of talent is by technique,” said Jansen, Rabach’s closest friend on the Redskins. “Casey has tremendous technique. It’s getting leverage on ‘em and making ‘em run. Then all of a sudden you’ve got a guy that’s 350 pounds leaning on you. That’s a lot different than when he’s pushing you.”

While Rabach-sized nose tackle Jay Ratliff of Dallas, Washington’s other 3-4 foe, had 11 tackles (three for a loss), two sacks and four quarterback hurries in two games against Washington, Rabach fared well against Rogers and Hampton (nine tackles, two for losses, one sack and three hurries). That bodes well for the matchup with Ngata.

“If there’s a better [nose tackle] in the league, I haven’t had a chance to spend any time watching him,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a dominant player in there.”

But Harbaugh also likes what he sees from Rabach.

“Casey is as good a center as we’ll see,” said Harbaugh, who faced the Redskins for the past 10 years as an assistant in Philadelphia. “He’s kind of the glue that holds that whole thing together. He makes a lot of calls - a very physical, smart player.”

Sunday’s game marks Rabach’s return to Baltimore, which he left for Washington in March 2005. A third-round pick in the 2001 draft, Rabach didn’t become a regular until his last year with the Ravens and departed after the team re-signed center Mike Flynn.

“[Playing them in] ‘05 would’ve been a lot different,” Rabach said. “You never want to lose against a team that you just left. Three years removed from it, it’s night and day.”

Indeed, only eight active Ravens players and three coaches were in Baltimore with Rabach. One of them, linebacker Terrell Suggs, hasn’t forgotten his former teammate.

“We used to have a lot of little offensive line [vs.] defensive line wrestling matches in the locker room,” Suggs said. “I remember him being one of the strong guys, trying to break my arm because I was a rookie. It was all in good fun.”

Probably about as much fun as spending a frigid night in Baltimore blocking Ngata.

“He’s a darn good football player,” Rabach said. “He’s definitely a load … and does well against the run. He keeps his linebackers free, which is what they ask him to do. He’s as big and strong as anyone that I’ve faced this year. He’s definitely a challenge.”

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