By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007
It only took guard Pete Kendall about a day to pick up the terminology used by his new Washington Redskins teammates and coaches. But now, he conceded this week, comes the tricky part of changing teams in late August: developing chemistry with the unfamiliar players who surround him.
That means learning to interpret center Casey Rabach's gestures at the line of scrimmage. It means sensing when tackle Chris Samuels needs a little help on a blocking assignment. And it means knowing where quarterback Jason Campbell is without having to look around.
These take considerably longer than learning the lingo of the Redskins' offense. How much longer is one of the biggest questions facing the Redskins as they prepare for Sunday's season opener against the Miami Dolphins and their all-pro defensive end Jason Taylor at FedEx Field.
"It's a veteran group, so we'll do whatever it takes, as best we can, to speed up the learning process," Kendall, 34, said.
The past two weeks have been a whirlwind for the 11-year veteran, who was acquired from the New York Jets for a conditional draft pick on Aug. 23. He has rented a furnished home in Ashburn, moved his family from their native Weymouth, Mass., and helped his wife, Michelle, enroll their three children, Peter, 9, Madison, 7, and Andrew, 5, in school.
Living with his family is something else Kendall will be adjusting to this season. But this adjustment, he said, is a welcome one. When he played for the Jets, Kendall lived on Long Island during the season while his family remained in Weymouth. On Monday afternoons, he would climb into his pickup truck, drive four hours on traffic-choked highways, arrive home in time to tuck his children into bed, spend Tuesday with his family, then return to Long Island in time for practice on Wednesday morning.
His commute in the Washington area is going to be considerably shorter.
"I'm excited," said Kendall, who was a first-round draft pick by Seattle in 1996 after a standout career at Boston College. "I haven't spent an autumn with my family since 2003."
Driving weekly from Washington to Weymouth was impossible, he said. "It was the combination of the fact that it was un-drivable and that we were able to secure something as quickly as we did. If weren't able to secure something so quickly, I would have been in JetBlue's frequent flyer program."
Despite the seemingly never-ending list of to-do's Kendall has dealt with in recent weeks off the field, and the learning curve he's faced on it, he said he couldn't be happier about his new situation.
He had been in the midst of a contentious contract dispute with Jets management at the time of the trade. An offensive co-captain in New York, Kendall reportedly sought an additional $1 million over his $1.7 salary, a raise he felt had been promised to him. But when the Jets refused to broach the subject in the spring, Kendall went public with the details of the disagreement on the first day of minicamp in June, angering management.
The Redskins, meantime, had been seeking a left guard to replace departed free agent Derrick Dockery after failed attempts to fill the void with tackle Todd Wade and backup Mike Pucillo.
The teams soon discovered they needed one another, and a deal came together quickly. As part of the trade, Kendall received the $1 million raise he sought, bringing his salary to $2.7 million for the season.
"He's been in the league for many years, so we knew about him," Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. "We were real lucky to get him when we did and not halfway through the season. He sits up in the front of the classroom right next to Chris Samuels and they talk through the whole meeting."
Blocking and talking are two things Kendall does best, a point that was underscored on a recent afternoon at Redskins Park, where Kendall stood in front of his locker, discussing everything from facing Taylor on Sunday to living with his wife and three children during the football season for the first time in three years. He also dropped a few one-liners.
Asked to describe his game, Kendall said: "They're not preparing a bust for me in Canton. But I've been able to carve out a pretty nice living."
What's it going to take to stop Taylor? "I'm glad I don't play tackle," he cracked.
Who are the people in the photos in his locker? "Oh, those just came with the frames," Kendall deadpanned.
Sunday, however, will be no laughing matter. Kendall expects it will be challenging, especially considering he has spent little time on the field with his new teammates, Samuels in particular. Samuels missed almost all of the preseason with a sprained knee. In fact, the offensive line that will start on Sunday had its first full practice together on Monday; yesterday was their second.
"A lot of the time, not much is said on the offensive line," Rabach said. "It's about feel and reaction. I'm hoping we'll have it down by Week 1. But Week 2 is more realistic."
Added Samuels: "We'll get things down. We'll have our growing pains, but I feel we'll be solid. We're going to the best we can to get that chemistry down in practice."
Kendall, 6 feet 5, 292 pounds, is considerably smaller than Dockery, who was an inch taller and nearly 40 pounds heavier. Kendall makes up for his smaller size with aggressiveness, nearly flawless technique and savvy.
"He's a technician, and obviously a smart player," said Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Bannan, who faced Kendall as a member of Buffalo Bills.
Asked how he feels the offensive line, the left side in particular, will perform against the Dolphins, Kendall reminded a group of reporters that this isn't the first time he has switched teams late in the summer. He did the same thing in August 2004, when he was cut by Arizona and signed by the Jets.
The result? The Jets opened the season 5-0 and running back Curtis Martin won the rushing title.
"I had little more time than I've had here, but not significantly more," Kendall said. "I'm not trying to take all the credit for that, but it went okay."
Staff writer Camille Powell contributed to this report.