Heyer Shows Unexpected Versatility

Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense, tutors Stephon Heyer on playing right tackle. Heyer hadn't played a snap at that position until yesterday.
Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense, tutors Stephon Heyer on playing right tackle. Heyer hadn't played a snap at that position until yesterday. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 10, 2007

During the final Friday practice before his first regular season NFL game, Stephon Heyer spent "a few reps here and there" working at right tackle. He also experimented at the position during the Washington Redskins' offseason training activities. And besides that?

"Not even one down, not even one practice, not even one rep at right tackle," he said. Not even in youth leagues? "Not even anything," he said. "I've never played right tackle."

The undrafted free agent from Maryland wasn't even listed as a right tackle on the flip chart before yesterday's meeting with the Miami Dolphins; his role was to back up left tackle Chris Samuels. Then starting right tackle Jon Jansen went down early in the second quarter with a fractured dislocation of the right ankle. Jansen's backup, Todd Wade, was inactive because of lingering shoulder issues.

And so Heyer played the rest of the game at a position he was barely familiar with and acquitted himself fairly well. The final offensive play of the Redskins' 16-13 overtime win was a nine-yard Clinton Portis run through a hole Heyer helped create.

"Everything seemed like a dream, just a weird dream," the 6-foot-6, 320-pound rookie said. "Everything was just, 'Wow!' It was crazy. I couldn't really sit back and think about it; I just had to go out there and do it."

Now the Redskins must determine how to cope with the aftermath of Jansen's injury. A team spokesman said surgery was likely, and his linemates were assuming the injury will sideline Jansen for the rest of the season.

Wade, before a quick exit from the locker room, said he will start at right tackle next Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles. His shoulder, he said, is no longer a concern.

"Why I wasn't activated, I'm not even quite sure," said Wade, who, after signing a two-year, $6.2 million offseason deal, was briefly moved to guard before coming back to tackle in the final weeks of the preseason. The shoulder is "as good as it's going to be. It's manageable. There's harnesses and things like that I'll wear, but I feel good about it. It's nothing I'm worried about."

Coaches were noncommittal about next week's starter. "Let me rest on that one for a couple of days," assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel said. In the meantime, plenty of praise was heaped on Heyer, who gamely filled in at left tackle for an injured Samuels throughout the preseason.

"From what I can tell and what other people are telling me, he did an awfully good job," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We kept Stephon [active] thinking left tackle, to give Chris a blow if we had to. Lo and behold, we make the best out of our plans, and now you have got a kid that's a rookie that jumps in there extremely well prepared and, from what I can tell, played extremely well."

Heyer received blocking help from tight ends and running backs, but the Redskins didn't shy away from running to his side. The team's first and last offensive plays of overtime were both runs behind Heyer.

"I don't think he gave up any sacks or anything like that, so that's all we can ask from the kid," center Casey Rabach said. "I think he did real well today."

Other veterans were more measured; "He did all right," said right guard Randy Thomas, who played next to Heyer. "He's a rookie. Don't blow him up like he's an all-pro guy, let's just be patient and see what happens."

The Jansen injury is just the latest disruption for an offensive line that has been in flux all summer. Thomas missed time in training cap to recuperate from knee surgery, Samuels sat out much of the preseason because of a knee sprain, and Wade's experiment at guard failed, leading to a trade for veteran Pete Kendall. Jansen, a nine-year veteran, had been one anchor; "kind of the face of the offensive line," Rabach said.

Still, the linemen remained optimistic last night. Rabach said he is already "totally comfortable" playing beside Kendall, Thomas said his own health is now at 95 percent and Samuels said he was pleased with his progress.

"Conditioning-wise, I felt great," he said. "I thought I would be sucking wind a whole lot. I guess with all the adrenaline flowing and all the running and preparation, I got through it pretty good."

And Heyer? He called his performance "okay," but after heading into the summer just hoping to make an NFL roster, he was still attempting to put yesterday's game into perspective.

"It was a magical situation I was put in," he said. "They threw me in there and I just said, 'Let's go.' I had nothing else to do but go out here and play."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company