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For Bugel, There's Always a Fine Line

From Hogs to Dirtbags, He Puts Stamp on Offense

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2004; Page D01

Joe Bugel huddled with 10 offensive linemen in a meeting room at Redskins Park following the Washington Redskins' first minicamp in March. The assistant head coach for offense turned off the lights, then showed highlights of the Hogs, the famed offensive line Bugel guided under Coach Joe Gibbs in Washington from 1981 to 1989.

Images flickered of linemen who began their NFL careers as obscure rookies, including Mark Schlereth, a 10th-round selection, and Raleigh McKenzie, an 11th-round pick. Jeff Bostic, one of the original Hogs, had been a long snapper before transforming into a top-flight center.

Joe Bugel, with tackles Jim Molinaro, left, and Pita Elisara, is working to reshape the Redskins' offensive line without injured linchpin Jon Jansen. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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"This is how we're going to do things here," Bugel told his new players, ranging from two-time Pro Bowl selection Chris Samuels to rookie Jim Molinaro, a sixth-round pick. "A picture is worth a thousand words. Everybody I'm going to show you on tape has a Redskins helmet on. They're your older brothers.

"No matter where you're drafted, or even if you're not drafted, if you do those things, you'll always be a Redskin."

Then, before Bugel put away the tapes, the 64-year-old offensive coach fast forwarded to the present by concocting a nickname for his new crew: the Dirtbags, derived from seeing a muddied, scruffy Jon Jansen in the first week of practice.

Jansen, one of the NFL's best right tackles, suffered a season-ending injury, tearing his right Achilles' tendon in the preseason opener -- a 20-17 victory over the Denver Broncos in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 9. It was a tremendous loss for Gibbs, whose run-heavy offense behind tailback Clinton Portis relies on the line more than any other unit.

Nonetheless, the Redskins are optimistic they can withstand Jansen's injury largely because of Bugel's reputation for meshing unheralded offensive linemen into formidable units.

Kenyatta Jones, a third-year player who started 11 games for the New England Patriots in 2001, has replaced Jansen in the starting lineup. He'll join left tackle Samuels, guards Derrick Dockery and Randy Thomas, and either Cory Raymer or Lennie Friedman, who are competing for the starting center position, to round out the starting offensive line. For depth, the Redskins added new reserves, including Ray Brown, at 41 one of the league's oldest players who originally played in Washington from 1989 to 1995. Rookies Mark Wilson and Molinaro may be forced into key roles.

After leaving the Redskins in 1990, Bugel struggled as an NFL head coach, going 24-56 over five seasons, four with the Phoenix Cardinals and one with the Oakland Raiders. But he is considered one of the best offensive line coaches in league history and was one of the first people Gibbs lured out of retirement in January when he took the Redskins coaching job.

From 1977 to 1980, before joining Gibbs the first time, Bugel oversaw the Houston Oilers offensive line that tailback Earl Campbell dashed behind en route to the Hall of Fame. With the San Diego Chargers in 2001, Bugel coached an offensive line composed of players earning the league minimum. The makeshift unit created enough holes for tailback LaDainian Tomlinson to gain 1,236 rushing yards, the second-highest total in franchise history.

Bugel's current and former players believe his success stems from masterful motivational skills, communication ability and teaching acumen. Returning Redskins say they have markedly improved through Bugel's emphasis on hand techniques to hinder defenders.

Last season, Thomas, a gifted athlete who is agile despite his 6-foot-5, 306-pound frame, relied on a flawed blocking method -- blocking wide, with his hands several inches apart. It left Thomas's chest open to defenders, making him more vulnerable. A lineman has more control over the defender by keeping his hands close together inside the chest area -- "tight hands," Bugel explained -- before punching out.

The Redskins also have incorporated one of Bugel's trademark techniques: the arm pump, which is used in run blocking. The lineman cocks, or pumps, his arms to his sides before forcefully pushing upward -- "like a fork lift," Bugel said -- into the defender's chest area. It diminishes the chances of holding and keeps the lineman from being passive.

"He wants us to hit 'em in the chest and make their heartbeat stop," Thomas said. "It stuns them at the line because the defense is taught to hit you in your chest, so it's better if you hit them first."

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