By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 21, 2007
Struggling to keep their playoff hopes alive at a stadium in which they had not fared well recently, the Washington Redskins looked toward the future. With the outcome still in doubt in the fourth quarter of a 22-10 victory Sunday night over the New York Giants, Washington's coaching staff relied on second-year defensive tackles Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery.
While interior lineman Cornelius Griffin, the longtime anchor of Washington's defensive line, sat on the bench, his young proteges formed the foundation of a unit that helped the Redskins defeat New York at Giants Stadium for the first time since 2003, and only the second time in their last seven games there. Griffin injured his hand early in the game but could have continued to play.
"The coaches just said they liked what we had working and they wanted to keep it going," Griffin said. "The young guys played well."
Although Griffin is expected to start Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis, the coaches' decision to have Golston and Montgomery on the field together at a crucial time could signal another changing of the guard along the Redskins' defensive line. Before the season, Washington released veteran defensive linemen Joe Salave'a and Renaldo Wynn, and Griffin, who has a big contract, has been slowed by injuries at times the last few seasons.
As the Redskins prepare for another must-win game against the Vikings, their unexpected yet effective youth movement has helped them remain in playoff contention. Golston and Montgomery are two examples of inexperienced players seizing opportunities, a rare occurrence in recent Redskins history.
"A lot of times what happens is, when you've had the situations like we've had with all the injuries we've faced, you have young guys get opportunities," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "You see young guys get chances they probably wouldn't have had. Now, what we've seen here is that a lot of these young guys around here, they can really play. We've been seeing some pretty special things from these guys."
Golston and Montgomery included. Golston, 24, and Montgomery, 23, played well together against the Giants, the Redskins said. Montgomery was credited with five tackles and recovered a fumble. Golston, who did not record a tackle, provided a good push inside, helping the Redskins harass New York quarterback Eli Manning into an 18-of-52 passing performance for only 184 yards and a 52.1 passer rating.
On the season, Montgomery has 36 tackles, including 27 unassisted. Golston has 10 tackles and a sack.
"Obviously, they trust us," Montgomery said of the coaching staff. "If they didn't trust us, they wouldn't have us here. Just having us here says a lot about it, so that's not a shock to us to go in there and have to play the whole game."
In addition to Golston and Montgomery, versatile lineman Lorenzo Alexander, linebacker H.B. Blades, safeties Reed Doughty and LaRon Landry, tackle Stephon Heyer, place kicker Shaun Suisham, cornerback Leigh Torrence and pass-rush specialist Chris Wilson are the other cost-effective first- or second-year players who have made a positive impact for the Redskins. That's a departure for an organization that, under owner Daniel Snyder, has invested heavily in high-priced free agents in an attempt to correct its problems.
Golston (listed at 6 feet 4 and 320 pounds) started 13 games last season as a rookie sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Georgia. Montgomery, a fifth-round pick from Minnesota in 2006, was considered a project last season. Low on the depth chart while struggling with his weight and the speed and intensity of the NFL, Montgomery (6-6, 315 pounds) improved his work habits in the offseason and has started 13 of 14 games alongside Griffin. Golston has played in 13 games as a reserve.
"Golston started for us last year and Monty is starting for us this year, and both of those guys have matured a lot," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "They're using their hands a little bit better, their technique has gotten a lot better, and I think they trust in the system and the scheme now. They trust in what coach is saying to them, and I think that's what's helping them the most."
Greg Blache, Washington's defensive line coach, was hard on Montgomery last season, players said, pushing him to reach his potential. Montgomery is getting there. "Monty is really stepping up and kind of unleashing that beast that's inside of him," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "He's having a good year."
Golston has played steadily while spelling Griffin and Montgomery, and Montgomery "has done real well for us, especially the last few games, in terms of being disruptive in the run game," linebacker London Fletcher said. "On plays where they try to one-on-one block him, it's pretty hard to do."
Blache's guidance and Griffin's mentorship have resulted in Golston and Montgomery making strides this season.
"It's a tribute to Coach Blache and how he only accepts the best," Golston said. "He wants the best out of us, and it's expected of us not to miss a beat no matter what. So to lose a player like Grif, on short notice in a game as big as that, and have me step in and help us get a win, that's big time."
Griffin expected nothing less. Since Golston and Montgomery arrived at Redskins Park, Griffin has counseled them on how to perform as professionals on and off the field.
"One thing I always say is, 'Take care of the young guy,' " he said. "Don't try to [hurt] him because you're worried about your job. Make sure he's in the right place and not screwing up. If you see him doing something wrong on a play, show him how he can do it better.
"When I came in, I was on a line with a lot of veterans. They told me the same thing and they took care of me, off the field as well. You don't want to embarrass the group. You don't want to embarrass the team."
Griffin, who turned 31 on Dec. 3, has started all 14 games but has only 40 tackles -- his lowest total since he had 20 in his rookie season with the Giants in 2000. When healthy, Griffin has been considered one of the more effective tackles in the NFC, but injuries have derailed each of his last three seasons to some extent. Griffin will have a salary cap number of more than $6.1 million, including a $4.2 million base salary, in the 2008 season. And it appears Golston and Montgomery are ready for bigger roles.
"They're both playing good ball," Griffin said. "They're young but they've got wisdom. They know how to play the game."