Relative health creates bond for starters
It has taken three years and a lot of effort, but the Redskins finally have put together a solid offensive line, one that has allowed quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris to exploit their skills in their first season in the NFL.
This line is a far cry from the famous group in the 1980s and early 1990s. Those "Hogs" featured Hall of Fame guard Russ Grimm and multiple All-Pros like tackles Joe Jacoby and Jim Lachey and became the defining feature of the Joe Gibbs era. This unit is built around left tackle Trent Williams, a first-round draft pick in 2010 and the fourth overall selection that year, and a group of solid if unheralded professionals.
"[Williams] is an athletic freak, and he can do things at his size that not many people can. A lot of people wish they could," left guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. "So for him I think [the coaching staff] knew what they wanted this line to eventually look like, and he was a key component of that. And with the rest of us it was like 'Yeah, this guy can help us,' and I think over time it's turned into 'They're doing more than just helping. They've all kind of formed a unit that's pretty darn good.'?"
Indeed, Williams is headed to his first Pro Bowl, and the line helped paved the way for the offense to set a franchise record with 2,709 rushing yards. It hasn't hurt that the men alongside Williams have stayed relatively healthy. Lichtensteiger, center Will Montgomery and right guard Chris Chester have all played in and started every game -- though all have battled various injuries, too.
Williams endured a left thigh bruise in a Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas. Lichtensteiger's status for Sunday's NFC wild-card game against Seattle is in doubt thanks to a sprained left ankle, and Montgomery suffered a sprained left knee last month. Right tackle Tyler Polumbus, meanwhile, started 15 games. A concussion caused him to miss Week 16 against Philadelphia.
Chester and Montgomery started all 16 games in 2011, too. Polumbus, coincidentally, began last season in Seattle before finishing the year with five games in Washington. Lichtensteiger appeared in five games in 2011. Williams played in 10 but was suspended for violating the NFL's drug substance abuse policy.
Still, that experience has helped all of them. It is a group that doesn't need to be overwhelmingly big physically -- and other than Williams and Polumbus it really isn't. The offensive schemes the Redskins employ require lateral movement and quickness more than sheer braun to create the cutback lanes they thrive on. In that kind of system, chemistry and communication matter even more than usual.
"You don't want to have to talk too much up there before the snap. You don't want to tip the defense off too much," Williams said. "So when you play with a person for 16 games, two or three years, you don't have to say much. We kind of read each other. And I think that's a crucial part of the success that we're having. I think it has allowed us to do a lot more things up front than we have in past years."