Joe Bugel wants to avoid what happened in last year’s playoff game at Seattle. Already without right guard Randy Thomas (broken leg in Game 14), the Washington Redskins’ offensive line became more depleted when Ray Brown was injured in the second half.
Cory Raymer, a back-up center who hadn’t played guard in years, was forced into action. To no surprise, he struggled.
“A disaster,” said Bugel, the Redskins’ offensive line guru, of the situation.
To prevent that kind of situation this season, the Redskins — without signing a name free agent or using multiple draft picks — went about reshaping the line’s depth. They hope the end result is more youth, versatility and production if called upon.
As the Redskins wrap up minicamp today and break until training camp on July 31, Bugel has little concern about his starters: right tackle Jon Jansen, right guard Thomas, center Casey Rabach, left guard Derrick Dockery and left tackle Chris Samuels. Only Thomas didn’t play in all 18 games last season.
But after the front-line players, Bugel has questions.
“Depth is a big concern for us right now,” he said. “But we have some young kids that have to come to the forefront. It’s extremely important.”
The only holdover reserve who was active for most of last season is third-year tackle Jim Molinaro. Out are Ray Brown, 44 (retired) and Raymer, 33 (released). Molinaro and nine other players are competing for precious few roster spots. None are older than 28, most can play more than one position and few have any starting experience.
“We went with the youth movement this year,” Rabach said. “There are a lot of talented guys out here and guys who can play multiple positions. In the long run, it can only help us.”
Throughout last year, the Redskins kept nine offensive lineman on the 53-man roster.
“We had depth to a certain point last year,” Jansen said. “Randy went down and Ray played well when he came. But for us, it’s a matter of developing guys that come in and play two to three positions.”
Molinaro is entering his third year with the Redskins but has seen minimal action aside from special teams. He is working at both tackle positions.
“I’m a lot more confident in my techniques and the guys on the first team have a lot more confidence in me,” he said. “I’m ready to go in and show them what I can do.
“It’s always tough when you’re not in there, especially when you played in college. But the coaches and players are always telling me that I have to keep working and developing and I’ll get a chance. … It’s always put up time in the NFL. But this is a huge opportunity in my career.”
Said Bugel: “When you get into your third year, it’s time to play, maybe not as a starter, but as a sixth guy or swing man.”
Molinaro has worked with the first team because Jansen’s thumb surgery has him doing limited work. In Rabach’s stead (shoulder and leg injuries), Mike Pucillo is playing center.
Pucillo has the most experience of the reserves. He started 12 games for Buffalo in 2003 and six games for Cleveland last year. He can play guard and center.
Pucillo is expected to compete against rookie free agent Jasper Harvey of San Diego State.
The guard-tackle group includes Ike Ndukwe (who can play both) and Tyson Walter, who has played in 40 games at tackle, but has been sidelined by a high ankle sprain this month. The group is rounded out by Jonta Woodard, Kili Lefotu, Jim Jones, Jon Alston and Daniel Martz.
The starters will get their work during practice in August, but much of Bugel’s decisions will be based on how the reserves perform in the preseason games.
“It will come down to the end of training camp,” Bugel said. “It’s an ongoing situation. You have to pick it up from scratch every year.”
Depth is important for the Redskins because Samuels has a history of minor knee problems, Thomas is coming back from a fractured leg, Rabach from shoulder surgery and a leg injury and Jansen played the first half of last season with two broken thumbs.
“You can’t ever tell without the pads on, but we have some great potential backup guys,” Rabach said. “That’s what’s exciting about camp — you get the true feeling about what kind of player a guy is and what his limitations are.”