Redskins positional review: offensive line

Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim

Projected starters: LT Trent Williams, LG Kory Lichtensteiger, C Will Montgomery, RG Chris Chester, RT Jammal Brown.

Battle spot: Nothing in the starting lineup, unless Lichtensteiger somehow shows up unable to play just yet. But for six months he and the Redskins have been steadfast in saying he’ll be ready for camp. ‘Steiger always pegged camp as the time for his return; there was no need to rush to get ready for minicamp. Therefore the battle spots are all for backups. The Redskins only kept eight linemen out of camp last year. Tyler Polumbus enters with an edge and Josh LeRibeus is a third-round choice so barring a collapse he’ll be on the roster. That means the last roster spot, or two, will come from Maurice Hurt, fifth-rounder Adam Gettis or Willie Smith. I like what I’ve heard about Gettis from scouts and from his coach at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz (yes, he’s supposed to gush but he said he was their best lineman last season — ahead of Riley Reiff).  Hurt was working a lot at right tackle in the spring. James Lee is in the mix, but he’ll need to look a lot better than he did in the spring just in terms of staying low. Rookie Tom Compton seems destined for the practice squad.

Vet in trouble: Erik Cook. He struggled way too much when given a chance last season. The Redskins drafted LeRibeus to fill that backup center/guard role, at least for this season.  And with Lichtensteiger healthy the Redskins have someone who could shift to center if Will Montgomery was hurt.

What I like: Before he was suspended Williams was playing like a guy drafted in the top five. His athleticism and ability to reach the second level in a hurry are critical to this offense. … Lichtensteiger was playing well, too, before his injury. He understands what he needs to do in this scheme, with the angles he must take and with his feet. More importantly he understands what he isn’t – a mauler – and adjusts accordingly. …The attempt to find young depth. When it matures, who knows? But if you get enough young linemen, the hope is that one or two will develop into solid starters….Chris Chester’s mobility…Jammal Brown’s long arms…. Will Montgomery’s consistency – not a star, not a flop. You know what you have.

Remaining questions:  There are a few. Any player coming off a bad knee injury must face the same question Lichtensteiger now does: How quickly can they return to the level they were at before it happened? … Will Brown finally play with good health? That’s a tough one, even after an offseason of yoga and Pilates. Tough to say there was a noticeable difference in his movement this spring, but I’ll be curious to see him in the one-on-one matchups when the intensity increases. …Will Williams pass his drug tests? … Do they have a legitimate swing tackle? Smith was way too inconsistent, as an undrafted free agent should be, in his time last season. You can’t assume he’ll be that much better, but he at least has good athleticism. … Hurt improved by season’s end, but not to the point he’s ready to start on a good line. He needed to get in better shape. Has he? Will he have a better understanding of the offense too? … If the Redskins use more shotgun, will Montgomery’s snaps reach the QB quicker? He was too slow with that at times last season; there were many times when his snaps took nearly a half-second to reach the QB – elite centers were snapping it back in about .22 seconds or so. But this is a skill that can be improved. … Is the depth good enough?

Better or worse: Tough to say they’re better if only because it’s the same group of starters and two have health questions. And the depth remains a question. It’s not all that much different than this time a year ago. This line isn’t about individual talent (no line really is). If they work together they can be effective. Saw it last year with Williams and Lichtensteiger; they worked together well because of their familiarity – taking on blocks, picking up stunts and games, etc. Even after all the injuries last season the Redskins still produced five 100-yard games late in the season. The scheme and the stretch zone runs help the line. Again, look at some of the lanes that opened late last season (keep in mind that in some games – like Minnesota – they faced 6- and 7-man fronts only for the most part) with two backups starting. The backs deserved credit for getting extra yards off broken tackles, too. But it all works together. Robert Griffin III will help the line with his legs and, in theory, should freeze the backside end with the bootleg threat. But if he’s not decisive on some passes (especially facing a blitz) or if he tries to extend a play too long then he’ll also hurt them at times. It’s why coaches always say it’s unfair to always blame (or credit) the line for pass protection issues. There were times last season when Rex Grossman’s ability to make a quick decision bailed out a linemen losing his block. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Final word: They’re not asked to maul guys; they’re asked to play quick, don’t get moved while going lateral and to play smart. In some ways, their task is to obstruct and occupy defenders, creating cutback lanes. They’re not a perfect group. They could be better.  But they’re also not the primary reason Washington went 5-11 last season. They had one stretch of scoring at least 20 points in three straight games last season and it occurred after Williams’ suspension. Too many turnovers; too few big plays were the big culprits for their poor mark.


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