Tough Run Continues as Thomas Is Put on IR

Redskins guard Randy Thomas, shown congratulating center Casey Rabach, has played in just three games -- all wins.
Redskins guard Randy Thomas, shown congratulating center Casey Rabach, has played in just three games -- all wins. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007

Even in times of despair, with the Washington Redskins' once robust running game skidding toward the depths of the NFL, there remained an undercurrent of optimism that better times were ahead. Randy Thomas, a lineman singularly capable of rallying a team and rejuvenating the running game, was inching closer to returning after tearing his triceps.

However, that hope ended yesterday as Thomas, 31, was placed on the injured reserve list, shutting him down for the rest of the season, with the injury to his triceps and elbow. Guard Rick DeMulling, who was largely inactive during a stint here earlier in 2007, was re-signed. Thomas attempted a comeback last week but essentially was operating with one arm against the Chicago Bears and left the game in the first quarter, in what became his last action of the season.

Thomas tore his triceps in the second game -- an injury that is often season-ending -- but is considered so important that the Redskins held open a roster spot for months in case he could return. The team is 3-0 with Thomas active, 3-7 without him.

"In the back of my mind reality sets in that maybe I'm just not right," Thomas said. "We gave it a run, and the training staff did a great job getting me ready. I think I was probably as strong as I could be at the time. Me and [Coach Joe] Gibbs had a great talk, and we decided it was best for the team and me personally to let this thing heal. I have a long career to play and I don't want to jeopardize it."

Thomas said he was instructed to rest the arm -- on which he had surgery Sept. 19 -- and is unsure when the swelling will dissipate and he can resume strengthening and rehab work. Thomas will undergo another MRI exam to determine if he damaged the arm during his one quarter of play (he fell on it several times), though he expects to be back for offseason work. Gibbs said the MRI is precautionary and the team does not anticipate further surgery or significant setbacks.

"He's such an integral part of our football team, and that's a tremendous loss," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense and offensive line coach. "That was tough because he wanted to play so desperately."

There are myriad reasons for why the Redskins' running game, the team's offensive identity for two years, has plummeted this season. Tailback Clinton Portis has been slowed and largely ineffective after suffering a litany of long-term injuries, and the offensive line has lacked punch and continuity with so many starters hurt or ailing. As a result, opponents have overloaded against Washington's run-heavy approach and stopped it, save for consecutive weeks midseason when Portis ran 66 times for 333 yards. In 10 of 13 games, Portis has not rushed for more than 75 yards.

The Redskins are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry -- tied for 21st and well off the 4.1 league average -- and in his last four games Portis is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. "We've got to find a way to be able to run and pass," Portis said. "We can't let teams make us one-dimensional." Two scouts said that Portis, though still skilled and capable of a big play, does not seem to be the consistent "home run hitter" he once was -- he has just one carry over 20 yards -- and said they are unsure if he is still a feature back at this point.

"With his contract [Portis is scheduled to count $8.4 million against the 2008 cap] they've got a tough decision to make there," one NFC team executive said. "We think he's a better back than [Ladell] Betts, but I wonder about his focus. I'm not sure he's a guy to carry the ball 25 times a game for you."

The Redskins rushed for only 111 yards as a team the past two games (2.1 per carry) and several scouts contacted this week identified Thomas's absence, coupled with the loss of fullback Mike Sellers (who is now back and healthy), as the chief cause for the dwindling rushing production.

"Without Thomas they don't have a pulling guard, and that's a big part of who they are," said one NFC scout who has prepared a report on the Redskins this season. "They can't do the things on the perimeter they like to do, and it takes away their sweeps and outside stuff. So they have to go to pretty much all stretch plays and zone blocking, and they're a much easier team to prepare for."

The scout said he expects teams to continue to overload the line of scrimmage with defenders -- "mugging" linebackers with all three stepping into a gap in unison -- and running stunts and run blitzes. Teams continue to also "slant" their defensive linemen to the left side of Washington's line, which clearly is the side the team is most comfortable running behind with Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels and veteran starter Pete Kendall.

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