- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

Without hesitation Friday afternoon, Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn emphatically called the performance of new starting right tackle Stephon Heyer “excellent” in the loss to the New York Giants.

Huh? Those in the Redskin Park media room shot glances at each other. Was Zorn trying to keep Heyer’s spirits high after the offense did little in a 16-7 loss? Was Zorn trying to stay positive because he made the major decision to bench veteran Jon Jansen in favor of Heyer?

He had to be mistaken.

Turns out he was pretty much correct.

While “excellent” is probably too strong to describe Heyer’s maiden voyage as Jansen’s replacement, “adequate” and “serviceable” do suffice once Heyer’s 52 snaps were reviewed and his assignments examined.

Aside from the sack on the first play (Heyer should have kept Justin Tuck engaged even though Jason Campbell should have gotten rid of the ball sooner) and the first-series false start, there were only three plays when Heyer clearly was beaten.

The Redskins’ line as a whole needs to improve before Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, but Heyer, at least for one game, validated Zorn’s gamble to make him the starter.

When Zorn made the decision, he cited Heyer’s performance in pass protection. The Redskins knew Heyer would be a work in progress run blocking, but his lower body was strong enough to withstand bull rushes from the Giants’ defensive ends, something Jansen - who has had two major leg injuries since August 2004 - was susceptible to during the preseason.

Heyer got double-team help in pass protection only six times, and four of those were chips from running backs - two from Clinton Ports and two from Ladell Betts - before they went into their routes.

Tuck was a nonfactor in the pass-rushing game after the opening snap and eventually moved around and didn’t go against Heyer much in the second half. Heyer also held his own in one-on-one matchups with Jerome McDougle.

The Redskins’ only touchdown - a 12-yard pass from Campbell to Santana Moss late in the first half - showed why Heyer was Zorn’s choice at right tackle.

Going one-on-one against Tuck on a third-down snap, Heyer originally appeared to be beaten by Tuck’s straight-ahead power move. Heyer’s upper body snapped back. But his lower body kept leverage, allowing Heyer to recover by hooking his right arm into Tuck and pushing him outside. The extra time allowed Campbell to hit Moss in stride.

Zorn said the protection game plan didn’t include specific instances in which Heyer would get double-team help.

“He was afforded help because he would make a block and the guy would take an inside charge and our guard would be there to help him,” he said. “It wasn’t like we went into the game saying, ‘We really need to help this guy.’ We were going to try and chip here and there but not give him a double team every time we had a chance. He got some help from his buddies, and I think we’re going to be OK there.”

Heyer’s run blocking was decent.

He was beaten three times in the run game: Defensive tackle Fred Robbins beat him with a low move to stop Portis for a 1-yard loss; Tuck correctly read run and slid underneath before Heyer could recover and limited Portis to a 2-yard gain; and Robbins beat Heyer to send Portis for a loss, but the play was wiped out because of a facemask penalty.

When Heyer was required to get to the next level and take on a linebacker, he was able to block outside backer Gerris Wilkinson.

“He had some communication problems, but he was very aggressive,” Zorn said. “He missed some things. He didn’t get called [for holding] on a tackle that he made.”

Heyer, who was making his sixth NFL start, earned praise from his quarterback.

“For his first game, I thought he did well,” Campbell said. “Sometimes, guys came up field, but as the quarterback, he gave me an opportunity to step under the rush and still be able to stand in there and make throws.”

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