- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two teammates suffered season-ending injuries. A storm cut short a practice. Heat and humidity turned the other workouts into oppressive sweatfests.

Randy Thomas and Jon Jansen aren’t complaining. They’re simply glad to be back on the football field again, playing together as the right side of the Washington Redskins’ offensive line.

“I love playing with Randy,” Jansen said. “We have a great time out there. I love playing next to a guy who loves the game of football. It makes it fun to be out here.”

The Redskins counted on Thomas and Jansen to form a strong and enduring combination at right guard and right tackle when they signed Thomas in 2003.

The reality has been a different experience - and a painful one for both the team and players.

Jansen, selected by the Redskins in the second round of the 1999 draft, missed the 2004 season with a torn Achilles tendon. He broke both of his thumbs during the next season, and Thomas missed the final two regular-season games and the two playoff games that season with a broken right leg and ankle.

Jansen finally surrendered to the pain of a calf injury and sat out a game in December 2006.

Last season, however, was the worst of all.

Jansen broke a leg and an ankle in the season opener. Thomas tore his left triceps in Week 2, pushed to return to action in December and partially tore the same muscle again.

“It’s been a tough road, but you don’t see no quit in us,” Thomas said. “We fought through our rehab, and we’re back setting that right side strong. If I could pay to stay healthy, I would. It’s a freaky game. It’s just exciting to be next to Jon again.”

Offensive line coach Joe Bugel seconds that. Bugel was forced to make do last season with a patchwork line that included rookie free agent Stephon Heyer at tackle and Jason Fabini, a career tackle, at guard.

“I’m totally amazed at Jon,” Bugel said. “The five years I’ve been here, this is probably the best camp he’s had. He’s so far ahead right now it’s unbelievable. He was real good in minicamp and OTAs, but you need to see a guy in pads. Randy was a little bit rusty, but he’s becoming his old self again, the real good puncher.

“I’m really happy they’re able to go two-a-days coming off those type of injuries.”

After two days in shells, the Redskins donned full pads Tuesday. The morning practice was cut short early in the team work, but Jansen held his own in the afternoon against Jason Taylor, the Redskins’ newly acquired pass-rusher supreme. Thomas, pulling on a running play, bowled over linebacker Khary Campbell.

The good results and fine feeling of being back in pads brought smiles to the faces of both of the 32-year-old linemen.

“It feels great,” Jansen said of his surgically repaired right leg. “I feel really good. I’m really happy with how it went. I’m really happy with how I’m moving. Most of my nervousness went away during [June’s organized team activities]. There were a couple of times I got caught up in piles and came out just fine. Obviously, every day you come out you test your body more and more. I like how things are feeling and working.”

Jansen said the first practice in pads was a big test, but Thomas downplayed its significance.

“I’m always making contact,” Thomas said. “I tested my arm with the shells on. The weight room guys and the trainers really pushed me, so I wasn’t worried at all. I feel like I had a year off. I feel pretty good. I feel like everything is rebooted and recharged. I’m not the guy who’s going to question what happened, but things happen for a reason.”

The Redskins opted not to re-sign former backup center Mike Pucillo, so Jansen has tried his hand at snapping this spring and summer.

Coach Jim Zorn said he might let Jansen play some center in preseason. Jansen also has contemplated a shift to guard that might prolong his career. Heyer showed last year he could play adequately at tackle, but rookie Chad Rinehart still has to prove he’s the heir apparent to left guard Pete Kendall, 35.

“I would love to be able to show that I can do more than just right tackle,” Jansen said. “I’ve never [played center] in a game, and it would definitely be a great opportunity. If the team needs [a guard], I’ll be ready to do it.”

Jansen also is ready for his Aug. 3 return to the field in Canton, Ohio, where his string of injuries after five ironman seasons began in the 2004 Hall of Fame Game.

“I have no fear of anything happening there,” Jansen said. “I’m going to go out there and play as hard as I can as long as they want me to.”

Thomas, who had missed just eight games in eight years until 2007, feels the same.

“We’re going to get criticized: ‘They’re old, they’re slow …’” Thomas said. “We’re going to take care of that. I’m just excited to be back out there next to Jon again.”

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