Protecting Robert Griffin III is Washington Redskins offensive line’s mission
By Jason Reid,
In individual text messages, Griffin introduced himself to last season’s starting offensive linemen. Just a little personal touch to show he knew their names and quickly establish something important: He can’t revive the Redskins without their help.
“It’s the old cliche: Your linemen are your best friends. They protect you,” the wise-beyond-his-years rookie said Thursday after offseason practice at Redskins Park. “If you can be good friends with them, show them that you care about ’em, they’ll pass protect harder for you.”
Even if the Redskins’ offensive linemen don’t wind up being all buddy-buddy with Griffin, the group still needs to be better next season than it ever has been.
The Redskins mortgaged their future to move up the draft and select Griffin, who has been every bit the energizing figure Coach Mike Shanahan envisioned. The Redskins’ usually mundane offseason workouts are now must-see sessions because of Griffin’s obvious-on-every-play talent.
The offensive line — among the team’s weakest position groups for years — will have the biggest role in determining whether the promising new show becomes a long-running hit. As anyone who owns a Cheesehead hat or oversize foam finger knows, success along the offensive line is integral to winning at every level of the game.
In pass-protecting and run-blocking, the biggest of football’s behemoths attempt to provide a bedrock-sturdy foundation for the offense. If the offensive line doesn’t do its part well, the RGIIIs of the world often won’t have enough time to do theirs, either. It’s a symbiotic relationship if there ever was one.
Long ago, the Redskins set the standard for offensive line excellence. During Joe Gibbs I, the Hogs were District A-listers with a cult following to prove it (though I still find the sight of grown men in dresses, wigs and strap-on pig snouts to be a bit unnerving). Because of poor judgment and injuries, however, the latest edition of the Redskins’ offensive line is facing about as many questions as euro-zone nations.
Left tackle Trent Williams will likely face interrogation-light scrutiny for the remainder of his career. That’s part of the price the line’s cornerstone player must pay because of his four-game suspension for drug use last season.
With one more failed drug test, Williams would receive a season-long vacation. “It was a mistake that was made and I have to live with it,” Williams said. “I know it’ll be the last mistake I make to that magnitude.”
Williams was the first pick of Shanahan’s tenure. Shanahan has continued to support Williams, whom he expects “to play at a pro bowl level. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t have an incredible year.”
Shanahan is less certain about right tackle Jammal Brown, who has struggled with hip problems since the Redskins acquired him from the New Orleans Saints before the 2010 season. After he joined the team, it was immediately clear that Brown, once among the NFL’s elite tackles, hadn’t recovered fully from 2008 hip surgery.
He missed the 2009 season, so the Redskins figured it would take time for Brown to rediscover his game. Not nearly this much time, though. Often the past two seasons, it was downright painful to watch Brown in pass protection.
Lacking a high draft pick to invest in a tackle and unexpectedly having less flexibility in free agency (nothing alters shopping plans quite like a league-imposed $18 million salary cap penalty), Redskins management is all in on Brown again. For his part, Brown has put in overtime to try and get his body right — or at least to feel a little better than he has in a long while.
He remained in the area for supervised workouts at the team’s training complex. Brown also does yoga and Pilates in an effort to break up scar tissue that formed around his hip. “I definitely feel a difference,” Brown said.
Although Redskins coaches are realistic about Brown reverting to his pre-injury all-pro form, they need him to help keep Griffin upright. Brown definitely wants to try.
Brown believes a Griffin-inspired party is starting, and he wants to stick around for a while and enjoy it. “When you bring a guy like old Robbie [Griffin] in here . . . you can’t wait to block for him,” Brown said.
Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger missed all but five games last season after tearing his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, which is also known as the pro sports double-whammy. One of Shanahan’s favorite players on the roster (“He’s probably the best-in-shape lineman we have on our football team,” Shanahan said), Lichtensteiger has been held out of practices despite requesting to participate.
“If we played a game tomorrow he could play,” Shanahan said. “Is there a chance that something [a setback] could happen? Yeah, but there’s a chance of that at every position.”
Shanahan also had good things to say about center Will Montgomery (“He played exceptional last year”) and right guard Chris Chester (“Exactly the type of guy you’re looking for with what we do”). Willie Smith had some nice moments playing for the suspended Williams, and Tyler Polumbus wasn’t awful on a fill-in basis. Still, the Redskins gave up 41 sacks — tied for the 11th-highest total in the 32-team NFL.
Some argue that the elusive Griffin minimizes the importance of pass protection. After watching Griffin evade an all-out blitz and team with wide receiver Santana Moss on a practice-stopping touchdown Thursday, even the offensive line would agree.
“That makes our load a lot easier to have a great quarterback like that,” Williams said.
Possibly. But Griffin is facing a defense under instructions not to hit him. Soon, he’ll face a league full of defenses out to get him.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.