Redskins’ O-Line settled, with room for improvement

John Keim is taking a position-by-position look at the Redskins’ roster heading into training camp. He’s reviewed linebackers and the defensive line so far. Today, it’s offensive line:

Returning starters: LT Trent Williams, LG Kory Lichtensteiger, C Will Montgomery, RG Chris Chester, RT Tyler Polumbus

Trent Williams

Trent Williams is coming off his first Pro Bowl. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Key backups: T Tom Compton, G/C Josh LeRibeus, G Adam Gettis, G/T Maurice Hurt

Key additions: T Jeremy Trueblood, T Tony Pashos

The rest: C Kevin Matthews, C Tevita Stevens, OL Jacolby Ashworth, T Xavier Nixon

Decisions: There’s little doubt about the starting five, though there’s a slight window open at right tackle. This group works well together, and in their stretch zone attack, continuity and familiarity matters a lot. The Redskins have this and are better collectively than individually; that’s not a bad thing at all. The real decisions will come with the backups, especially at right tackle between Trueblood and Pashos. Trueblood was benched in Tampa last year and Bucs sources say that he’s struggled the past couple years. Pashos proved his mettle playing with a torn tendon his ankle all of 2011 and could not play last season. If they keep nine offensive linemen, including one of those two players, then they’ll have to release one of their young linemen. Hurt’s ability to play tackle in a pinch helped him last season. Though he was merely adequate at best in his one start against the Eagles at right tackle, it went about as well as the Redskins could have hoped and he did not embarrass himself. Still, they like Compton, LeRibeus is a third-round pick and Gettis showed more at guard. Hurt needs to have a strong camp.

Burning questions: 1) Will Polumbus improve in protection? He’d better, because the Redskins have said it was an issue last year. When the 6-foot-8 Polumbus bends at the waist – when any lineman bends at the waist – he’d lose leverage and would be beat. One knock on him coming out of college years ago was his strength, and that he did not knock defenders off their path, allowing them to win on a counter move. Better technique will help there, the Redskins hope. Polumbus spent all offseason working solely at right tackle for the first time in a long time and focused on his pressing issues: keeping his shoulders square and his hands inside the defender. He improved as a run blocker. Now comes the next step or the Redskins will be looking elsewhere in 2014.

2) Will any of the young linemen emerge? LeRibeus did not have the best offseason. Line coach Chris Foerster said LeRibeus needed to get in better shape. A hamstring pull this spring prevented him from getting much practice time, which is not good for someone entering their second season. But he showed flashes of his talent last season. The book on him: When he knows what he’s doing, he does it very well. When he does not, it’s tough for him to compensate and he’ll look lost. Compton is interesting, but he’ll still only be a backup left tackle who won’t work on the right side unless he becomes “great” at left tackle, Foerster said this spring. He needs to play with better strength than a year ago, but that’s been his main offseason focus. Gettis is strong, which allows him to anchor even when stood up. But his technique must be refined so he isn’t getting stood up so much in order to survive as an NFL guard. Right now, none of the three project to anything more than a backup in Year 2. But they don’t need any of them to start, allowing the team to develop young depth.

3) Is Trent Williams the game’s best left tackle? Williams always bows to Philadelphia’s Jason Peters, but he’s coming off an Achilles’ injury. If nothing else, Williams is in the discussion. Like others, it’s hard to fully measure him based off last season. At times, his bruised thigh left him around 70 percent capacity and it was clear he had a difficult time pushing off and moving left. Consequently, when he was beat, it was to that side. But when healthy, Williams makes plays few can make. Against New Orleans, Williams sprinted out to the left on a screen to running back Roy Helu in the flat, just inside the numberse. Had Helu been more patient, Williams was right there and would have cleared an inside path. Williams still reached his man, but Helu’s impatience foiled the attempt. Still, not many tackles could make this attempt. Another time last season, he pulled from his side to pick up a blitzing linebacker coming through the right side. The linebacker was a yard off the ball when snapped yet Williams still stopped him. Again, few make that block. But his real key is the ability to quickly get to the second level. Williams appears to be relying a little less on athleticism and a little more on technique compared to his first two seasons; he’s strong and can bump defenders off their path, making it tough to beat him on a counter move. If healthy, Williams can make a strong case that he’s the best tackle.

What to watch for: Kory Lichtensteiger’s improvement a year after knee surgery. Before tearing two ligaments in his knee in 2011, Lichtensteiger was considered the Redskins’ best run-blocking lineman. It’s tough to say that was the case last season coming off the injury. Lichtensteiger gutted it out and earned admiration, but he admitted that he would sometimes not get to blocks he had made in the past, perhaps a byproduct of the injury. The grind of playing 17 games made him less than full strength, during games and over the course of a season. Maybe Lichtensteiger wasn’t happy the season ended, but his knee certainly was (not to mention the sprained ankle that ended his day against Seattle). He did not feel 100 percent much of the time and at times it impacted his performance. Lichtensteiger already has it tough against bigger linemen because of his size (he’s listed at 284 pounds); but it’s hard to use all of that strength with a knee still giving you trouble. If Lichtensteiger is completely healthy, the Redskins have a speedy left side with he and Williams. With Alfred Morris’s cutback ability, that sort of quickness will pay dividends. The Redskins are betting that the old Lichtensteiger will return, which is why they re-signed him to a five-year deal this offseason.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @john_keim | @D3Keith | @Insider | @PostSports

Also from The Post:

In which scenario would the Redskins not win the NFC East?

D.C. Sports Bog: Kirk Cousins sings Rebecca Black’s “Friday”

Redskins need more push from defensive line

D.C. Sports Bog on Redskins’ surveys: On Snyder | team name | Stadium | Slogans

How Griffin deals with pass-rush pressure

D.C. Sports Bog: RGIII’s wife in wedding dress and makeup

The Other 31: AFC East | North | South | West | NFC East | North | South | West

The Early Lead: Lions, Matthew Stafford agree to three-year extension

The Early Lead: Hernandez documents reveal new details in murder case

Also on The Insider

In what scenario would the Redskins not win the NFC East?