Puzzle along the Redskins’ offensive line remains jumbled

Trent Williams, Tom Compton & Kory Lichtensteiger

The Redskins’ five starting offensive linemen return, but the jobs behind them remain up for grabs. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Redskins return all five starters from last year’s offensive line and believe that continuity will serve that unit. Last season Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus started together in 15 out of 16 regular season games, and helped pave the way for an offense that ranked fifth overall and first in rushing.

The team this offseason kept the unit intact by re-signing Lichtensteiger and Polumbus, whose contracts had expired.

Things remain unsettled behind those five, however, where the team has another 10 players battling for anywhere from three to five remaining spots.

For now, 2012 sixth-round pick Tom Compton serves as Williams’ backup at left tackle. Undrafted rookie Xavier Nixon has worked as the third left tackle. Second-year pros Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis have worked as the primary backups to Lichtensteiger and Chester, respectively. And undrafted rookies Jacolby Ashworth and Tevita Stevens have spent the bulk of camp as the third-string right and left guards. Third-year veteran Kevin Matthews has served as Montgomery’s primary backup at center, and free agent additions Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood have lined up as the second- and third-team right tackles, respectively. Meanwhile, third-year guard/tackle Maurice Hurt remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he continues to rehab from offseason knee surgery.

Offensive line coach Chris Foerster said at this point, it’s too early to predict how things will shake out. Last season the Redskins carried nine offensive linemen with LeRibeus and Gettis making the team as backups along with swing tackle Jordan Black and Hurt. Compton made the practice squad.

But Foerster said the combination and/or number of players could play out differently this year.

As of now, it doesn’t appear that the team has a backup capable of playing both left and right tackle as Black did last season. Compton has worked exclusively at left tackle, and Pashos and Trueblood have only played right tackle.

“Jeremy and Tony would struggle on the left in my opinion, due to the open side,” Foerster said. “But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to, but right now, that’s why Tom Compton is over there working his butt off, and we’ll figure out the next best tackle from that point. But, could they swing? Possibly they could. Never say never. But I would say, right now, it’d be a stretch for them.”

But Foerster said that doesn’t lock Compton in for a roster spot as the only backup left tackle. Polumbus has played left tackle in the past, and could be called upon to switch sides if something were to happen to Williams.

LeRibeus got off to a slow start after missing all of the offseason practices while working his way back into shape. And Gettis missed an early stretch in training camp with a hamstring injury. Compton did take some snaps at left guard and has been learning the position to make himself more versatile.

And although Matthews has taken second- and third-string center snaps (with Stevens getting some third-string snaps here and there), he isn’t a lock either, because Lichtensteiger and Chester both can play center. The team drafted LeRibeus with plans of grooming him as a guard/center, but he hasn’t taken any center snaps in team drills. Lichtensteiger has, however, taken some second-team center snaps off and on.

LeRibeus admittedly struggled in the preseason opener and needs to show improvement in the next three games. Gettis has been solid, meanwhile.

Ashworth has been hobbled off and on with minor injuries, and for now, doesn’t seem poised to overtake LeRibeus, and Stevens doesn’t currently seem like a threat to unseat Gettis. As undrafted rookies, both would have practice squad eligibility.

Right tackle also remains uncertain. Pashos appears to have the edge over Trueblood, who doesn’t look like a fit in the zone-blocking scheme, and has seemed to display the same drive as Pashos. But is it possible for Hurt – a guard, who also made one start at right tackle in place of an injured Polumbus last season – to return to action, have a strong preseason and beat out Pashos for a roster spot because of his versatility?

Hurt on Monday will miss his second preseason game, and it’s hard to say if he could get activated this week and play in the third preseason game Saturday on such little practice time? That would seem far-fetched.

But, as Foerster said, “Never say never.”

With all of the movable pieces among his interior linemen, Foerster has a bit of a good problem. But it also makes his decisions difficult.

“I know you’re trying to figure out – and I am too – how do we put this thing together?” he said. “With nine guys, 10 guys, practice squad? We have a lot of different options, and we do have flexibility because our two starting guards can both play center, and that adds a dimension to the whole thing as you put it all together.”

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