Much has been made about the Washington Redskins’ quarterback situation, but regardless of who is passing this fall – Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck, some other veteran or even a rookie – the offensive line has to do a better job of keeping him upright.
The offensive line surrendered 46 sacks last season, the fifth most in the NFL. The Redskins used six different offensive line combinations, largely because of injuries, so better health should lead to better production. But Mike Shanahan also is banking on growth from young linemen Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger and Will Montgomery to bring stability to the line.
Williams will be entering his second NFL season, and although he had a decent rookie year and possesses all the tools to be a dominant left tackle, Shanahan says improved maturity and work habits will enable him to take a big step forward in his development.
“With most players, that jump comes in between the first and second year,” Shanahan said of Williams, the fourth pick in last year’s draft. “It’s when they learn how to be a pro, how to get in shape, how to master a system, how to play at a certain level throughout the year. He’s got as much talent as anyone that I’ve been around. What he’s got to do, his practice habits, his work ethic, his discipline, his passion for the game have to dictate whether he’s a Pro Bowl player, a Hall of Fame player, or just another player in the National Football League. But he’s got the talent to be as good as any player that’s ever been in the National Football League, and you can’t say that about many people.”
Shanahan believes last year was an eye-opener for Williams, who got off to a strong start, was hampered by a sprained knee, missed two games and then had ups and downs the rest of the way.
“I think he realizes how different it is from the collegiate level: that you really have to practice and prepare every day like it’s a game because there’s a lot of great athletes out there, and if you don’t prepare at that level, it’s hard to play at that level,” the coach said. “College, lots of times you can just use your athletic ability to dominate players. You can’t at this level. You have to prepare. The great thing about it is, he’s got the ability to be as great as he wants to be.”
Lichtensteiger had his share of struggles despite unseating Derrick Dockery at left guard. A natural center, and a bit undersized at 6-foot-2, 292 pounds, he was overpowered at times and struggled to recognize blitzes. Shanahan said that Lichtensteiger began to turn the corner late in the year, developing better technique and understanding of the system. He believes Lichtensteiger can carry those improvements over into this year.
The same goes for Montgomery, also a natural center, who learned to play guard and worked his way into the lineup in November when Artis Hicks was banged up, and started the final six games of the year.
“I thought Kory and Will did a good job and really improved throughout the year and got a lot more comfortable in our system,” Shanahan said. “I was really pleased with how they played toward the end of the year. They’re two very competitive guys with a lot of pride that played extremely hard.”
Shanahan still didn’t rule out upgrades along the line, however.
“We’re always going to improve,” he said. “One thing you’ll see us always try to do is always have the most competition we can have; the best possible players, versatile, and we’ll always have competition. But talking about Kory and Will, those two guys, I thought they did a great job of not being starters at the beginning of the year, coming in, playing and improving and thought they really did well toward the end of the year.”