- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2011

Play Erik Cook in a game of one-on-one hoops, and you might be in big trouble. He’s 6-foot-6, 320 pounds and can throw down dunks with two hands. Have fun with that.

Cook is, in fact, a center, but basketball isn’t his sport. And in football, his height actually can be a disadvantage at that position.

“I know I have to be low,” he said. “The D-linemen and the nose guards I’ll be going up against, they definitely have an advantage of getting under me.”

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That’s just one of the challenges facing the Washington Redskins’ offensive line Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Injuries have forced them to start new players at three of the five positions. As if changing quarterbacks wasn’t enough, the instability up front exacerbates problems for an offense that struggled at full strength in the past three games.

“We’ve lost a little continuity this week, but at the same time it gives … guys opportunities to step up and perform,” offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. “We’re excited about the challenge.”

Judging by the patchwork unit’s performance against Philadelphia last Sunday, there are reasons for serious concern. In players’ defense, they hadn’t practiced at those positions with the first team offense during the week leading up to the game. But the new trio lost enough blocks that helped stifle the offense.

Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger’s season-ending right knee ligament tears caused the Redskins to make two changes to the line. Coaches like Cook more as a center than guard, so he took over at center and first-string center Will Montgomery shifted to guard.

Starting left tackle Trent Williams suffered a high right ankle sprain that will keep him out at least two weeks. Backup Sean Locklear replaced him and will stay on the left side this Sunday.

“We obviously didn’t perform up to standard, and we need to keep working to improve,” Foerster said. “We didn’t execute as well overall as a group.”

Montgomery played exceptionally well at center through four games. He is one of the Redskins‘ strongest players, and at 6-3, 310, his compact stature is well-suited for that position.

He encountered some difficulty at guard, though. He surrendered a sack to Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson when Patterson got his hands inside Montgomery’s and drove him back with a strong punch. As Montgomery staggered back, Patterson beat him with a swim move.

“At guard you’re in a lot more space,” he said. “At center you’re kind of playing in a phone booth. At guard the guy has about three steps to do his move.”

Locklear, a seven-year veteran, has more experience playing right tackle, but he played left tackle for the Redskins during the preseason.

Eagles defensive end Jason Babin got around him for a sack in the fourth quarter last Sunday, chasing down John Beck from behind. He also missed blocking a linebacker on the second level during a third-quarter running play that ended up being a 2-yard loss.

Locker believes a full week of practice with the first-string will produce significant improvement.

“It’s better because … you’re going through every play that you’re going to run,” he said. “We know the plays, but actually playing beside somebody [you’re next to in the game] a lot better getting all those plays in.”

Cook’s takeover at center might be the most impactful move of the three. The second-year, seventh-round pick now is charged with making protection calls.

Staying low will be one of his top priorities after struggling at times in the run game last week.

“For me, I think I’ve got pretty good hands,” Cook said. “It’s all about my hand placement for me. Usually, 95 percent of the time, the guy with the better hand placement is going to win. I’m trying to stay low, but if my hands are there, I think I’ll be all right.”

The Redskins‘ offense, as a whole, needs all three backups to be.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s been done before,” Montgomery said. “Everybody is a pro at this level, so we should be able to get the job done.”

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