By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Jon Jansen spent the past week receiving treatment on his torn right calf instead of practicing. His right thumb is broken, again, and his team has nothing to play for. But like many of his wounded Washington Redskins teammates, the offensive tackle wanted to play tomorrow in New Orleans if at all possible.
Jansen was downgraded to doubtful yesterday, and journeyman Todd Wade is expected to make his first start for the Redskins. Meantime, center Casey Rabach was upgraded to probable and intends to play tomorrow after having four screws inserted into his broken left hand.
Numerous other veterans, also nowhere close to healthy, still are hoping to make the best of the next three weeks. In what has been a thoroughly disappointing season, the players and coaches believe any sort of momentum that could be carried into next season would be helpful, and playing through even significant discomfort is part of the job.
"I think you've got to play," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Games in the preseason you're going to be careful not to do things, and in the regular season I think it's really important for momentum and how the team feels that everybody can play, and I told the team this: 'We're going to play, we want to win and we're going to put everything we can into it.' We're playing everybody who can play as hard as we can play. I think that's the only way to approach these games, and I think they understand that."
The last three years have been more difficult than anything Jansen has known in his professional career. He entered 2004 having started every game since being drafted 37th overall in 1999, then tore his Achilles' tendon in the first preseason game of Gibbs's return and missed all of that season. In 2005, Jansen endured the entire season with two broken thumbs, starting all 16 games, and this season has been filled with health problems as well. Jansen's thumbs were an issue early on and his calf has deteriorated over the last month.
"Guys look at me as a leader on the team, and leaders are supposed to be out there in pain," Jansen said. "I haven't been doing anything I wouldn't expect of other guys. It's sort of a mark we'd like to set, and hopefully others will follow."
For all of their aches and pains, the offensive linemen are playing their most consistent football recently. The Redskins' return to a power running game has energized the line, which has allowed tailback Ladell Betts to top 100 yards each of the past three games and post career highs in rushing yards the past two games. The line has found its stride pass protecting for first-year quarterback Jason Campbell as well, insulating the youngster for the most part and benefiting from his increased mobility as well.
Gibbs and offensive line coach Joe Bugel believe Jansen may have played his three best games as a pro in the past three weeks, shutting down Carolina's Julius Peppers and Atlanta's John Abraham.
"He's been marvelous," Bugel said. "I don't know how he takes the pain."
They are equally as thrilled with Rabach's play. The center has been a physical force, especially in some of the inside zone plays that have been so effective this month. Rabach broke his hand last Sunday but returned to practice yesterday wearing an apparatus that he will sport again in New Orleans.
"Yeah, this was kind of a dress rehearsal [yesterday] to get a feel for the cast. So I know what I'll be working with Sunday," Rabach said. "It felt all right."
The offensive line is by far the most tenured group on the team -- three of the five starters have been together since 2003, four of them have formed a unit since 2004 and all five have been together the past two seasons -- and share much in common on and off the field. When the offense has been at its best in recent years, the linemen have led the way, although their superior play has not been rewarded with victories recently.
Jansen's guts have epitomized the effort of the line. His run blocking has been exceptional as well, outmuscling opponents on inside zone plays and helping to create massive holes for Betts to plow through.
There surely will be some adjustments necessary with Wade playing. He has excellent size -- he's 6 feet 8 -- but is svelte for such a frame (317 pounds). Wade tore knee ligaments and dislocated his patella last season after starting nine games for Houston, and was a regular starter for Miami and the Texans from 2000 to 2005. Wade has not played a snap on offense in more than a year, but his size and experience have long intrigued the Redskins.
Wade said he has felt good since being signed in September and is ready to play.
Before his arrival in Washington, "the knee had not been tested out except for running around and things like that," Wade said. "But since the day I got here I haven't iced it since. It hasn't been a concern. I wear a knee brace for it, but that's just a little mental thing to be safe."