Trent Williams and Maurice Hurt were the last two Washington Redskins off the indoor practice field Saturday afternoon. While most of their teammates headed to lunch, and a few stragglers spoke to reporters, Williams tutored Hurt about squaring his shoulders to pass-rushing defenders and absorbing contact in the chest.
Williams has been in the NFL for only two seasons, but his status as a collegiate All-American and a fourth-overall draft pick qualifies him as a teacher for the second-year seventh-rounder Hurt.
That post-practice snapshot shows how Washington’s offensive linemen continue to rely on each other after a difficult 2011 season finished as an all-hands-on-deck crisis. And with right tackle Jammal Brown already out indefinitely with a setback to his surgically-repaired left hip, the unit’s depth and cohesion will be tested again this season.
“We made some strides, and it was addressed in the draft,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “Anytime you get a third-rounder, you get a fifth-rounder, you get a sixth-rounder, and you put a little bit through free agency, you help the depth of your offensive line. And we’re a little bit more comfortable with the system … so we do have some competition there just compared to the last two years.”
The Redskins were mindful of Brown’s hip injury and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger’s right knee rehabilitation during the offseason, but after the league penalized them $18 million in salary cap space on the eve of free agency, they made only modest additions — and no changes to the first-string five.
Interior lineman Josh LeRibeus (third round), right guard Adam Gettis (fifth) and tackle Tom Compton (sixth) are competing for backup roles. And for now, veteran Tyler Polumbus, whose play was uneven after joining the team during last season, has replaced Brown at right tackle.
“It’s a concern,” Lichtensteiger said. “Jammal is a great player, and he’s a leader on our team and especially our position group. I don’t know what’s going on with him, but I hope he can get back on the field.”
Brown is scheduled to meet with a doctor on Tuesday to discuss a recovery plan. He re-injured his hip while running conditioning sprints on Wednesday.
Shanahan challenged Brown in January to either get his hip healthy or find work elsewhere. Brown took yoga classes to improve his mobility. Shanahan seemed pleased with the results in June, but Brown obviously has not fully overcome the problem.
Right tackle, then, belongs to Polumbus. He was pushed back in pass protection enough in five games last year that he did not enter camp as the first-stringer.
“The more time you spend in a system, the more comfortable you get, and hopefully the better you play as a result,” said Polumbus, who at 6-8 is the tallest Redskin. “There’s a million things that you always want to get better at. Last year, I was starting on short notice. I was getting acclimated to everything. I don’t have to deal with that this year.”
Added Lichtensteiger: “I hope JB comes back, but I don’t think there’s going to be a dropoff with Polumbus in there.”
Shanahan publicly has expressed confidence in Hurt and undrafted second-year tackle Willie Smith. Both of those players started games as rookies last season because of injuries or Trent Williams’ four-game drug suspension.
Both struggled to consistently play with sound technique, though. Smith criticized himself for leaning too far forward when pass blocking. Hurt’s footwork was not always sound; hence Saturday’s post-practice session with Williams.
Anyone seeking reason for optimism should look to Lichtensteiger’s return from multiple torn knee ligaments and Williams’ return from suspension.
Before Lichtensteiger was hurt in Week 6 last season, he and Williams were a force in the screen game because of their speed and timing. They also picked up stunts better than they did in Williams’ rookie season.
“We both got into this offense at the same time, so we don’t have to talk to each other much,” Williams said. “I know in certain situations where he’s going to be, and he knows where I’m going to be.
“The camaraderie we have,” he added, “makes it a lot easier to be successful.”
The Redskins need that to be the case all the way across the line.