Offseason questions: Is Josh LeRibeus ready for a larger role?

He was the Redskins’ second-highest pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, and something of a

Guard Josh LeRibeus (67) will enter his second NFL season out of SMU. (Cliff Owens/Associated Press)

Guard Josh LeRibeus (67) will enter his second NFL season out of SMU. (Cliff Owens/Associated Press)

surprise. He helped bolster the depth of Washington’s interior line, but significant questions still remain about guard/center Josh LeRibeus, whom Washington selected out of SMU last spring with a third round pick.

A guard in college, the 6-foot-3, 315-pound LeRibeus began his Redskins career by learning the center position behind Will Montgomery. But LeRibeus eventually shifted his focus to left guard as insurance for starter Kory Lichtensteiger, who played through injury. In the second half of the regular season finale against Dallas, Lichtensteiger couldn’t overcome an ankle injury, and LeRibeus played 21 snaps in his place. Lichtensteiger tried to play in the postseason game versus Settle but re-injured his ankle, and LeRibeus played 48 (all but seven) offensive snaps.

LeRibeus leap-frogged second-year pro Maurice Hurt, who had started eight games in place of Lichtensteiger in 2011.

Now, as free agency approaches, the Redskins have decisions to make regarding their left guard position.

Lichtensteiger, whom Shanahan has described as his best run-blocker and last season won the team’s Ed Block Courage Award after he rebounded from a torn ACL and MCL in 2011, now will become a free agent.

Lichtensteiger has said he would like to return to Washington. But the problem is the Redskins have a total of 19 players with expiring deals, they have needs in their secondary and they are roughly $4 million over the salary cap because of the $18 million NFL penalty they must absorb this year (($36 million total over two years).

Can the Redskins afford to bring back Lichtensteiger, who last season played on a one-year, $1.26 million contract and likely will seek an increase and a longer-term deal?

The other part of the question concerns LeRibeus’ development. How far along is he, and what kind of strides can he make in his second NFL season?

LeRibeus remains rather inexperienced. He appeared in five games, playing primarily on special teams until he saw six snaps at guard against Cleveland and then the action versus Dallas and Seattle. He had some good moments in those relief efforts, but he had a fair share of struggles as well. The Redskins hope for improvement from LeRibeus in his second season, but there are some who believe he is probably better suited for center than left guard.

The Redskins need to get production out of LeRibeus. They didn’t spend a third-round pick for him to be a backup. But is he ready to take that next step, or does he need more seasoning?

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