Redskins Put It on the Line

Left tackle Stephon Heyer (74) received high marks against the Titans, but quarterback Jason Campbell (17) was left vulnerable often.
Left tackle Stephon Heyer (74) received high marks against the Titans, but quarterback Jason Campbell (17) was left vulnerable often. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Despite the offensive line's performance Saturday night in Tennessee, the Washington Redskins do not intend to make any changes for this weekend's preseason game against Pittsburgh. While neither starting left tackle Stephon Heyer (hamstring), who is replacing injured Chris Samuels, nor starting left guard Todd Wade (shoulder) participated in much of yesterday's practice, both are expected back on the field against the Steelers' dynamic defense Saturday at FedEx Field.

Washington is also experiencing injury problems at wide receiver -- both Antwaan Randle El (quad) and Brandon Lloyd (shin splints) missed practice with what the team is calling minor injuries -- and signed veteran Todd Pinkston yesterday, a move Coach Joe Gibbs said is unrelated to the health issues. Pinkston, 30, suffered an Achilles' injury in August 2005 and has not played the last two seasons, but is the second experienced receiver signed in the past few weeks with some questioning the unit's depth beyond Santana Moss.

The offensive line is of much greater immediate concern, however, after Saturday. It was a struggle for veterans such as Jon Jansen as well as those being asked to play new positions, leaving young quarterback Jason Campbell and his backups vulnerable too often. Wade's play was particularly problematic and he has just a few weeks left to prove he can transition to an inside position, while Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense and offensive line coach, gave Heyer high marks after reviewing the film.

"As a rookie free agent, he shined and did a nice job for us," Bugel said.

The Redskins finish the preseason against three of the most daunting front sevens in the NFL -- Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Jacksonville -- and figure to face the starting defenses for a longer spell in the next two games at least, but for now Bugel said the team has no plans to alter the untested left side of the line.

"They're going to be okay," Bugel said. "Heyer, he don't know the names of the people he's going to play, so he's not scared. Maybe in four years he'll be scared, but he doesn't know who they are. So he just goes out and battles. Todd Wade, it's a new position for him and he needs a lot of work, and unfortunately he's injured right now with the shoulder. When he gets back, I don't know [when], but when he gets back we've got to find out about where he is."

Wade, 30, said he injured his shoulder Saturday but will be back for the next game. "It's not a concern, not at all," Wade said.

Reserve guard-center Mike Pucillo filled in for Wade in practice. Heyer, 23, said his left hamstring tightened up again during practice -- it started to bother him last week -- and Taylor Whitley filled in for him with the starters. "It's just a little strain, it's nothing much," Heyer said.

The Titans bested Washington's offensive line in the running and passing games, with the Redskins opening few holes with almost no thrust forward, and yielding five sacks. The left side was not the only area of concern -- the middle of the line sagged at times and Jansen was beaten badly on one clear sack, when Bugel said Jansen and guard Randy Thomas got their feet intertwined. "We have footwork issues we have to solve," Jansen said.

"We didn't play up to our standards," said Bugel, adding that he was "not sick" over the performance, "but surprised."

Heyer's development has been a point of pride, however -- "He's getting better and better and better," Bugel said -- while Wade's progress has been slow. He has been working at guard all offseason, but he cannot truly be assessed until he faces an opposing defense in game conditions. The Redskins were optimistic Wade could replace departed starting guard Derrick Dockery, and Bugel is committed to finding out in the preseason.

"If he's going to learn, you gotta learn on game day," Bugel said.

Putting two players so inexperienced at their positions adjacent on the offensive line can be difficult, however. The left side needs additional help from tight ends, taking them away from other routes and protections, and some coaches were also surprised by how often Jansen required a tight end stationed next to him to help with pass blocking last season. Tight ends Chris Cooley and Todd Yoder were stationed on the left side Saturday when Campbell was sacked on the right.

The Redskins expect to face more blitzes and stunts in upcoming weeks. Samuels, a four-time Pro Bowler who hurt his knee, is recovering well and should be back for the start of the regular season, but in the meantime the quarterbacks require more time to operate.

"Last year we were pretty good at [pass protection], and we'd better get going," Gibbs said.

Redskins Notes: Pinkston, a onetime starter in Philadelphia, signed a one-year veteran minimum contract, sources said, after being initially contacted by Washington on Sunday. Gibbs called Pinkston "somebody that could add to the football team." Pinkston, who knows Campbell well and grew up near him in Mississippi, said there had been little additional interest in him. "Other teams wouldn't give me a chance because of my injuries," he said.

Pinkston's Achilles' problem has not bothered him in the last six months. Gibbs said Lloyd is expected back this week but was unable to even run on the side yesterday. "We don't like it," Gibbs said of the prolonged absence, "but that's just where we are [in the recovery]." . . .

Reserve defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery missed most of practice with a knee sprain that is not believed to be serious. . . . Rookie tight end Tyler Ecker (groin) has missed almost all of training camp and still is not practicing. . . . Tailback Clinton Portis (knee tendinitis) continues to work out on his own and participate only in minimal receiving drills before practice. . . . The Redskins' fifth and likely final two-a-day session is scheduled for today.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company