To use one of Jim Zorn’s favorite words, the Washington Redskins “absolutely” have a Plan A for their offensive line, one that wasn’t on display during Monday’s workout but will be unveiled when they don the pads July 30.
But even before the release of starter-turned-likely-reserve right tackle Jon Jansen last week, the Plan was fraught with gambles and assumptions - risks that veterans have overcome major injuries and hopes that young and new players can perform well in their roles.
All of these potential miscalculations could impact whether quarterback Jason Campbell is allowed the best chance to succeed in proving to ownership he shouldn’t be run out of town.
The Redskins didn’t draft an offensive lineman (no surprise there), and their activity in free agency was signing left guard Derrick Dockery, former Carolina backup Jeremy Bridges and the out-of-work Mike Williams.
In the line’s current form, only three of the five starters remain the same from last year, a group that allowed 38 sacks while proving to be more efficient run blockers than pass protectors.
“We have a lot of new guys in a lot of new places, so it’s interesting to get them into the flow of things and react to different things,” Campbell said. “That’s what [organized team activities] are all about - get those things done before training camp.”
There’s no chance these issues will be resolved before the team starts a quick summer vacation June 12.
“[Offensive line] was one of the things that’s been the biggest question mark for me since after the season was over,” Zorn said.
It’s a question mark that has developed over the last few years as solid starters have seen their performances diminish by injury and/or age and the front office has virtually ignored the position in the draft (no first- or second-round picks since 2000).
The penalty for such shortsighted planning could be assessed this year.
Here’s what Zorn says he’s confident of: Left tackle Chris Samuels and right guard Randy Thomas will be fine after two offseason surgeries apiece, Dockery will fit in seamlessly as Pete Kendall’s replacement, Casey Rabach will remain steady at center and Stephon Heyer, Bridges or Williams will play right tackle.
Here’s what he should be confident of: Rabach will be steady at center, and Heyer, Bridges or Williams will play right tackle.
Everything else - Samuels and Thomas lasting 16 games, Dockery returning to form after a dismal 2008 season with Buffalo, the new right tackle being a solid run blocker - is a crapshoot.
“We’re going to find the best five guys initially… and those guys will have to stick together,” Zorn said. “We lost several guys last year, and we needed other guys to come through. I’m hoping we build a strong group.”
Zorn tried to begin the makeover last year when he started Heyer over Jansen, a move that lasted until Heyer injured his shoulder and Jansen’s run-blocking skills were enough for him to keep the job.
But Zorn didn’t endorse Jansen as the 2009 starter earlier this offseason, and when he concluded Jansen’s feet would never make him a serviceable pass protector, the veteran was cut.
The timing of the decision is interesting. Why couldn’t the Redskins have made this call before the draft and then selected a tackle in the first (although it would have been hard to pass up Brian Orakpo) or third round?
Zorn doesn’t regret waiting until after minicamp and the first set of OTAs to cut Jansen.
“Not really, because I didn’t know [about Jansen’s effectiveness],” Zorn said. “After the season I wasn’t sure. One of the reasons we made the change when we did, he was having a hard time with his ankle. We tried to help him work through it. He was bound and determined to be different. That’s the bottom line. I didn’t see the difference I was looking for.”
The best-case scenario at right tackle is Heyer taking a stranglehold on the job and not giving Bridges (39 career starts, including 18 at right tackle) and Williams (380 pounds and hasn’t played since 2005) an opening or Zorn reason to hatch a Plan B.
“It narrows down the competition a little bit, but it’s still a competition nonetheless,” Heyer said. “Nothing is guaranteed, and I’m not awarded anything until I start that first game of the season.”
What is a guarantee: All but Rabach should be monitored during the preseason before predicting Clinton Portis’ yardage total or Campbell’s touchdown tally.