By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Coach Joe Gibbs and his offensive staff spent yesterday mulling their options to try to stabilize the Washington Redskins' offensive line after another round of injuries in Sunday's 17-14 loss at Green Bay.
Gibbs said the team will have a better determination of the extent of injuries to center Casey Rabach, starting right tackle Todd Wade and reserve tackle Stephon Heyer by the start of practice tomorrow, but several contingency plans are in place and another reshuffling of the line could be looming.
The injuries are the latest to a line that suffered key losses early. Starting right tackle Jon Jansen broke his leg in the opener and was lost for the season and right guard Randy Thomas tore his triceps in the second game. Thomas could return in December but he said he fears the team will place him on the injured reserve list, which would end his season, because it needs to free up a spot on the roster with so many other linemen injured.
On Sunday, Rabach and Wade strained their groin muscles and Heyer strained his hamstring. Bubba Tyer, the team's director of sports medicine, said he is unsure which linemen will be able to practice this week, and said their status could change daily because of the nature of their injuries.
Rabach's loss would be the most taxing on the team, even for one game. He is a bright and athletic center who can make plays in the open and block deep into the secondary. Praised for his ability to set the offense and make calls to adjust to defenses, coaches say he makes those around him better. Mike Pucillo would replace Rabach -- he filled in during Sunday's loss -- and there was some fear that Rabach's injury could be severe, as it generally takes something extremely painful to force him out even for a snap. "Casey's never missed anything since he's been here, which is what concerns you," Gibbs said. "So I know it was something for him to come out of there. It's probably going to take a couple of days to see who's healthy and who is not."
Rabach, who was walking gingerly yesterday, referred to his injury as a "tweak" and called himself "day-to-day." Wade said his groin was "still pretty sore" and expected to need at least a few days off. Heyer said his hamstring was still tender but he was walking well. None of the players knew when they would return to the field, but they did not expect the problems to be long-term.
"We're concerned about all of them, but I think we're going to be okay with Casey," Tyer said. "We'll see how it goes day-to-day and update as we go."
Each injury to a lineman sends ripples throughout the offense. The Redskins have struggled to run the ball the last four weeks, especially from the injury-depleted right side, and the Packers ravaged the line in the later stages of the game, when Washington essentially was out of reserves after Heyer was injured. Wade had to come back into the game. "That's never happened to me before," Gibbs said of losing three linemen in one game.
Gibbs would like to maintain some continuity on the unit and recast the line unit from within. Veteran Jason Fabini, who has started at right guard since Thomas was hurt, could move to right tackle when the Redskins play the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday if Wade cannot start; Fabini spent the previous nine years of his career at tackle. In that case, veteran guard Rick DeMulling, who was signed after Thomas's injury but has yet to play on offense, would start at right guard, Gibbs said.
"Those are some of the things we're analyzing," Gibbs said.
If Pucillo has to start at center, then DeMulling likely would have to assume Pucillo's role as the tackle eligible in Washington's "jumbo package" -- one of its more effective running formations and a set it often uses. DeMulling said that when he signed with the Redskins he was told he might have to fill that role, and though he has yet to practice it with the team, he expected to do so this week.
"When I first got here they told me to brush up on [tackle eligible], and with everybody hurt now it's a merry-go-round," said DeMulling, who was signed Sept. 20. "Obviously, I don't know the full offense and I haven't been doing the technique all that long, but I've just got to do the best I can and do whatever they need me to do."
The Redskins have just six healthy offensive linemen on the active roster now, and could activate Kili Lefotu or Justin Geisinger from the practice squad for Sunday's game at FedEx Field.
Lefotu was arrested in Ashburn on Friday and charged with being drunk in public, destruction of property and simple assault, according to Kraig Troxell, a spokesman for the Loudoun County sheriff's office. Lefotu, who has a court date this morning, did not comment yesterday about his arrest.
Gibbs said he needs to get "all the information" on Lefotu's arrest before taking any disciplinary action. Gibbs also spoke with defensive line coach Greg Blache about possibly using defensive lineman Lorenzo Alexander on the offensive line Sunday. Alexander worked with the offensive line during offseason practices and nearly entered the game last week before Wade came back in.
"We wouldn't want to do that, but he's an unselfish guy . . . and he's willing to do whatever to help the team," Gibbs said. "That is one way where we can help ourselves from the inside. We're trying to look at everything. We sat there this morning and racked our brain."
The Redskins also will be working out centers and tackles today, sources said, seeking those with NFL experience. Among those expected to work out is tackle Kevin Sampson, league sources said, a seventh-round pick by Kansas City in 2004 who played for the Chiefs under Redskins associate head coach Al Saunders, starting seven games amid injury problems.
The Redskins would have to create a roster spot to sign a lineman -- they are carrying six receivers, more than usual -- but Thomas is worried that if the injuries continue to mount on the line, keeping him on the roster while he is injured is a luxury the team could not afford. At the time of his surgery, Thomas said team officials told him he might need to go on injured reserve in such an instance.
"I'm just hoping this spot don't need to be taken for a body," Thomas said. "You gotta worry about that. When you see three and four guys go down, you go home thinking, 'Oh, man, is this the day they're going to tell me my season is over?' That goes through the back of your mind."