- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

[Updated at 1:58 p.m.: Jim Zorn took four days to choose his new right guard, but once the cameras and tape recorders were ready, the Washington Redskins’ coach didn’t even wait for a question before announcing that Chad Rinehart will take over for the injured Randy Thomas, beginning Sunday at Detroit.

“We are going to start Chad,” said Zorn, who gave Rinehart and swingman Will Montgomery the news before Friday’s practice. “You won’t have to ask me the question each week because he’s going to be our starter. He’s not going to look behind his back. He’s going to go. Now, this first game is going to be a real indoctrination, but he’s played in tough situations before.”

Just not in a regular-season game. Zorn said that Rinehart’s play in preseason when Thomas was resting, especially against the formidable Baltimore Ravens’ starting defense was a huge factor in the decision as well as recent practices by the third-round pick in the 2008 draft.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Rinehart, a Division I-AA All-American tackle at Northern Iowa. “I’ve been working hard and I’m glad to have the opportunity to show the coaches I can play. I feel like I’ve been consistent, and they know what to expect from me. I’m definitely real excited. It’s been a lifelong dream to play in the NFL. They took a long, hard look at Will and still gave me the go. I feel confident going forward. I’m only guaranteed one start, and I’m going to have to give it my all.”

Montgomery, who stepped in after Thomas suffered a season-ending torn triceps in the second quarter of last week’s victory over St. Louis, was, in part, a victim of his versatility.



“What I really like about Montgomery is that he can play both positions,” Zorn said. “He’s a guy that I got to have at center and guard.”

So the product of Centreville High and Virginia Tech remains the the No. 1 backup to left guard Derrick Dockery and center Casey Rabach as well as Rinehart. Montgomery started four games for Carolina as a rookie in 2006 and two for the New York Jets in 2007.

“[Zorn] said he thought both of us practiced well and have been playing well,” Montgomery said. “He told me to be ready and just like last week, if something happens to the middle three guys, Im getting ready to go in and help this team win again. Everybody on this team wants to play, but not everybody is going to. Im just going to prepare myself, study my film, just continue getting better and try to help this team win.”]

Looking back, Chad Rinehart knows he moped through most of his rookie year.

As he made the transition from All-America tackle in college at Northern Iowa to NFL guard with the Washington Redskins last season, Rinehart knew he wouldn’t play if veterans Pete Kendall and Randy Thomas were healthy.

But just watching week after week was difficult to accept. Rinehart called it “an eye-opener” when his buddy Devin Clark was promoted from the practice squad in December and immediately got into two games on special teams - while he continued to stand on the sideline. The coaches had more faith in the rookie free agent than in their third-round choice.

But this is a new season, and either Rinehart or journeyman Will Montgomery will start in place of the injured Thomas on Sunday at Detroit. That decision is expected to come Friday.

“It was frustrating because I knew I was so much better than what I was showing,” Rinehart said Thursday. “I kinda shot myself in the foot last year in practice. I didn’t display the confidence to them that I was capable of playing. One day, I just kinda said I’m sick of the way I’ve been carrying myself. I’m just going to go out there, do what I can, show ‘em I can play. … It kinda clicked, and I knew I was able to play in this league.”

Although Rinehart said he believes the Redskins are “still kinda wondering which is the real” player, his coaches and teammates testify to his improvement.

“He’s better with his pad level, with his hands; you can tell he’s had more reps inside,” said defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, who regularly battles Rinehart in practice.

“[Chad’s] a different person from last year,” offensive line coach Joe Bugel added. “In the offseason, he built himself [up]. He went to the powerlifting. He came back bigger [and] stronger, and he’s more confident.”

Rinehart seems in line to get the nod over Montgomery for three reasons. He started at right guard in the preseason games against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. He was drafted to be Thomas’ heir. And Montgomery is the top backup to center Casey Rabach and left guard Derrick Dockery, so starting Montgomery would cause more problems if Rabach or Dockery were injured.

“[Chad has] been improving all along, and when he did get his reps with the starting group in the preseason, he did fine,” said coach Jim Zorn, dismissing the idea that the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Rinehart isn’t athletic enough to start. “Each guy comes along at his own pace. … The going rate for linemen to get it is the third year. We would love to have a guy in his first [year] get it, but everybody has their own timing. The nice thing about Chad is that he doesn’t have a ceiling. He’s not where he’s going to be in the future.”

Montgomery, who started four games as a rookie for Carolina in 2006 and two for the New York Jets in 2007, said he’s not losing any sleep over the decision about who will start. Rinehart isn’t so calm.

“I wish I knew yesterday who was going to go,” he said.

In any event, Rinehart will be active for the game, and he’ll have extra support. Since Detroit is the closest the Redskins will play this year to Rinehart’s hometown of Boone, Iowa, his father, Marty, and sister, Kelsey, already were planning to be on hand.

Now they may see his first NFL start.

“Going into this year, I was planning on doing everything I could to become a starter,” Rinehart said. “And once I get that job, I don’t plan on losing it.”

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