Offensive Line Stretched Further Yet

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 15, 2007

GREEN BAY, Wis., Oct. 14 -- In pain and seated on the bench late in the fourth quarter of a 17-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday at Lambeau Field, Washington Redskins starting right tackle Todd Wade thought he was finished working for the day.

Early in the game, Wade aggravated a groin injury he suffered last week in practice, and backup right tackle Stephon Heyer replaced him in the second quarter. But as he watched Heyer limp off the field with a hamstring injury during the Redskins' final drive, Wade looked around and realized he was the only option for an already injury-weakened offensive line that continued to suffer key losses against the Packers.

"I really wasn't expecting to go in on the last few plays, but we just didn't have anybody else," Wade said. "I mean, I've never really seen an offensive line get hurt like this, and so early in the season. It's definitely a concern."

The makeshift offensive line has been a concern for the Redskins since they had to replace the starting right side after only two games. Tackle Jon Jansen's season ended when he broke his leg in the season opener against Miami, and right guard Randy Thomas tore his triceps a week later against Philadelphia. When Wade and guard Jason Fabini, a converted tackle, took over on the right side, the Redskins crossed their fingers and hoped the unit would remain intact.

The retooled offensive line, however, wasn't able to stay on the field against Green Bay. In addition to Wade's groin injury and Heyer's hamstring problem, center Casey Rabach also was slowed by a groin injury and was replaced in the third quarter by backup Mike Pucillo.

Wade, Heyer and Rabach said they didn't know the severity of their injuries, and they will be evaluated Monday at Redskins Park. But this much is clear: The offensive line is in bad shape with 11 games remaining in the season, and the Redskins may have to alter their offensive plans unless the unit's health improves quickly.

"It's really the first time for me seeing this," said Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, in his eighth season with the Redskins. "Man, we're beat up."

With Wade and Rabach out of the game, the Redskins focused on running left behind Samuels and left guard Pete Kendall, which the Packers noticed. Green Bay loaded up on that side, and there wasn't much the Redskins could do.

In pass protection, the Redskins provided help for Heyer, an undrafted rookie free agent from Maryland, often lining up fullback Mike Sellers next to him. Although the Redskins applauded Heyer and Pucillo for their effort under difficult circumstances, the offensive line, obviously, wasn't the same without Rabach and Wade.

"Its really tough when you've been working with these guys from Day 1, and then all of a sudden they're not in there," Samuels said. "You've got guys that have been playing the backup role the whole time, and all of a sudden they're jumping in there."

Continuity is key for an offensive line, players said, because the unit must develop a rhythm to be successful. Knowing how the player next to you adjusts in certain situations can make the difference in whether a play succeeds or fails, and it's hard to develop continuity amid constant change.

"I don't know if anybody can reach that level immediately when you have continuous turnover," Kendall said. "But regardless of that, the expectation is that whichever five guys are out there, they are going to give us a chance. That's what we're charged with."

The Redskins play Arizona next at FedEx Field, and Rabach's status will be one of the big issues this week. Pucillo did a good job of making the line calls in Rabach's absence, players said, but it's not the same thing.

"It's like switching the quarterback for the receivers," Rabach said. "Mike did a hell of a job out there, he really did, and everybody has confidence in him, but it's just a little different."

The crowd noise at Lambeau Field, combined with Rabach sitting out for much of the second half, made things difficult for the line.

"We really couldn't hear too much. It was tough to make the calls and tough to make the adjustments, so we were kind of playing on the run," Samuels said. "One time, late in the game, I didn't hear a call. I thought we were sliding to my side, and we were actually sliding the other way. Mike made the correct call, I just couldn't hear it. It was just a really tough day."

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