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For Bugel, There's Always a Fine Line

Bugel used imaginary handcuffs, teaching his players through repetition and constant reminders. Thomas, a sixth-year veteran, had previously known a similar technique but stopped using it last season because it wasn't emphasized. Samuels, who is coming off perhaps his worst NFL season, picked up damaging tendencies in recent years -- dropping his head and using his hands improperly.

"I developed some bad habits the past couple of years," said Samuels, a five-year veteran who was still named a third alternate to the 2004 Pro Bowl. "With Joe Bugel coming back, it's definitely going to help us out. He's helped my game out tremendously already."

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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The Mount Rushmore of NFL offensive line coaches includes Bugel, Alex Gibbs and Jim Hanifan. Bugel differentiates himself from others with a colorful personality and an exceptional ability to inspire -- infusing confidence in the least talented players while prodding star players to reach their abilities. Bugel makes learning, especially in the classroom, enjoyable because of his entertainer's flair, former and current players said.

"He's a combination of Tony Soprano and Shakespeare," said Raymer, back in Washington after playing with the Redskins from 1995 to 2001. "He's a philosopher, but how do I say it? He's an unsophisticated man's philosopher. He came up with the word, 'Dirtbags.' You leave that up to him. He's one of a kind."

It only took Washington's first minicamp for players to realize Bugel's unique touch. During a drill for offensive linemen, Bugel, with a scowl, screamed in Thomas's ear, "You can be replaced!"

Bugel seemed to overlook that Thomas signed a seven-year, $27.6 million contract in 2003; the $7 million signing bonus remains the richest in NFL history for a right guard.

How did Thomas take Bugel's remark? "I've got to go out and get better," Thomas said, chuckling. "You've got to be criticized. You can't be comfortable. I don't think guys are comfortable because [Bugel] can plug anybody in there."

After being hired as offensive line coach by Gibbs in 1981, Bugel plugged in three rookies as starters: Mark May (20th-overall pick), Russ Grimm (third-round pick) and Joe Jacoby, who signed as an undrafted rookie. The other lineman, Bostic, was a free agent who had been a long snapper for the Philadelphia Eagles the previous season. George Starke was the veteran of the group.

Under Bugel's tutelage, Bostic turned into one of the league's top centers. Bostic, Grimm, Jacoby and May reached the Pro Bowl a total of nine times. Bugel named them the Hogs during the 1982 training camp because of their girth. (Bostic, Jacoby, Grimm, May and Starke averaged 280 pounds and 6 feet 5, making them the bulkiest unit in the NFL at the time.) In turn, the players dubbed Bugel Boss Hog.

"I'm not saying that those guys didn't have abilities," said Redskins tight ends coach Rennie Simmons, who was on Gibbs's staff from 1981 to 1992, with Bugel the first nine years. "Obviously, they had to have ability, but it took somebody to get it out of them. And I think Buges has a way of doing that."

Bugel calls Jansen's injury the biggest blow that he has encountered as an offensive line coach; the right tackle would have protected southpaw quarterback Mark Brunell's blind side, and his run-blocking prowess fit well with Portis. Since Jansen's injury occurred several weeks before the regular season, however, it will at least give Bugel time to find a replacement.

"If this was year two, I would worry more about missing Jon Jansen," May said this week. "But now they're still finding themselves. Bugel will eventually get a handful of guys that are interchangeable."

Bugel recalls 1984, when Bostic severely injured his right knee and missed the second half of the season. The Redskins still finished 11-5 as Washington rushed for 2,274 yards, 1,236 of them by John Riggins. In 1989, the club allowed only 21 sacks despite season-ending injuries to Jacoby and May and Grimm's recurring knee ailments. The Redskins, behind Gerald Riggs and Ernest Byner, rushed for 1,904 yards.

"Somebody has always gone down," said Rick "Doc" Walker, who played tight end in Washington from 1980 to 1985. "We've always had a loss on the offensive line."

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