- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2016

ASHBURN — Even after starting 13 regular-season games last season at left guard, Spencer Long approached the offseason with the desire to become a better center.

Long, entering his third year, was pressed into action in 2015 after left guard Shawn Lauvao needed season-ending surgery to repair a lateral sprain in his left ankle. He was also the third-string center behind veteran Kory Lichtensteiger and guard Josh LeRibeus, who made the transition to center and started 11 games while Lichtensteiger was out with a pinched nerve in his neck and shoulder.

Once the Redskins completed the first two phases of their offseason workouts, offensive line coach Bill Callahan informed Long he’d be taking reps as the backup center during organized team activities.

“It was a slow start but I think I’ve made a lot of progress,” Long said on Wednesday, after the team wrapped up its third week of OTAs. “Today was my best practice so far, by far. It just took a little second to get comfortable with it. I’m not by any means comfortable, but I’ve made strides and it can only go up from here and I’m excited about it and pumped about it to do what the team has asked me to do.”

The Redskins feel good about the depth they have at left guard and center, but the team is still trying to find the best combination. Lichtensteiger is currently taking snaps as the starting center. Long played left guard at times during the first two sessions, but played exclusively as the backup center this week while second-year guard Arie Kouandjio got more reps.

Lauvao had a total of five surgeries on both feet during the offseason and is still recovering, but, according to coaches, was playing well before he was injured. Last week, coach Jay Gruden said Lauvao is going to be healthy “shortly, I hope,” and that there will be “a great competition” for the starting left guard spot.

“I’m not going to pencil in anybody as the starter right now,” Gruden said. “I want to make sure Shawn gets healthy first. I really like his ability but I love the way Spencer came on at the end of the year. It’s good to have two good guys at that position.”

The last time Long played center — aside from in practice last season — was when he was a sophomore at Nebraska. He has approached learning the position with more urgency during OTAs and has put an emphasis on gaining a better understanding of the offense.

For Long, the biggest challenge during the transition has been absorbing the responsibilities entrusted to the center, such as reading the entire defense and shifting the protection when necessary.

“The first couple of days were rough,” Long said. “Your vision goes from less of a tunnel to more of a broad spectrum. You need to see the whole thing, recognize the front — ‘We’re going here,’ and have to take the line to that particular point. So, if you don’t know what everyone’s doing, it becomes really hard to play center. You need to develop a good understanding about the entire play, the defensive front, if something else happens and [if] they throw pressure on you from the front or back side.”

While Long improved at left guard last season, it’s hard to gauge at this point where he’ll be used most. Lauvao has yet to practice with the team and it is unlikely he will be able to until training camp. Either way, Long is embracing the competition and the uncertainty that comes with it.

“Approach it the same way you always approach things,” Long said. “There’s always competition in this league. If you’re not bringing your best self … you’ve got to focus on that and everything else is irrelevant. If you get caught up in all that crap, you’re going to fall.”

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