By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The busiest member of the Washington Redskins is between jobs. Versatile rookie lineman Lorenzo Alexander has just completed his special teams duties during practice at Redskins Park, and soon he will join the offense and defense as Washington prepares to face the Minnesota Vikings on tomorrow night at the Metrodome.
Alexander takes a short break whenever he can, which has become increasingly difficult to do because of his expanding role each week in the Redskins' game plan. So instead of standing on the sidelines for a while, Alexander quickly moves on to work at guard, tight end and fullback on offense, and tackle on defense.
Playing so many positions and having such responsibility on a team in playoff contention would seem to be a daunting task for an accomplished veteran, let alone an undrafted, first-year player still trying to adjust to the NFL. But Alexander prefers to have his hands full, he said, and the Redskins have given him a great opportunity.
"Anytime they're trying to move you around instead of bringing another guy in . . . that's definitely good," Alexander said. "As long as they feel that I can do it, I'm going to try to do it."
Although Alexander, 24, is among many first- and second-year players who have emerged as key performers for the Redskins (7-7) as they pursue an NFC wild-card berth, he is the only one who has played multiple positions on offense, defense and special teams. Considered an undersized interior defensive lineman, Alexander impressed when given a chance to play on the offensive line, coaches said, and he has continued to excel in every new assignment.
In the offseason, the Redskins plan to discuss whether they would benefit more from having Alexander focus on only one position on offense or defense. But with Washington in a must-win situation against the Vikings (8-6) and only two games remaining, Alexander still is needed in many places.
"I don't know if there is anybody else doing what he is doing," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "He is playing a lot on offense, a lot on defense [and] plays on special teams. . . . Those are the great stories in sports where somebody comes out of nowhere. You're sitting here last year going, '[He's] an undersized defensive lineman.' Now, he is probably one of our most valuable players. Stories like that are really good for the future because you have young guys there that are playing."
Alexander seemed to be everywhere in last Sunday night's 22-10 victory over the New York Giants, lining up at guard, tight end and fullback (some teammates have nicknamed him "One-Man Gang"). He made several key blocks late in the game 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. Alexander also spelled defensive tackles Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston and contributed on special teams.
"He made some unbelievable, pivotal, big-time blocks at the end to help us seal the win," said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams. "Then defensively, he played a significant number of snaps to help give us a blow there in the second half. He's a real versatile football player. He's a smart football player."
Said Gibbs: "We gave him two of the awards. One for special teams, one on offense."
Alexander has filled a variety of roles since early in the season, but his performance against the Giants was particularly impressive because of what was at stake, players said. A loss would have all but eliminated the Redskins from postseason contention, and the Giants would have clinched a playoff berth.
"He's made himself so valuable to this team," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "All the things that he can do from special teams, to offense, to defense, to tight end, to fullback, to guard, to tackle . . . whatever you ask, he'll do it.
"This guy is a player, man, and he's really tough. He's worked himself into a great position. I am amazed. Not many guys could take that role and do what he's doing. I admire the guy for it. We all love him and we all respect him."
Alexander's standing on the team is surprising. He was not drafted after a productive career as a defensive tackle at the University of California, and signed with the Redskins as a free agent on Jan. 12, 2007. Listed at 6 feet 1, 300 pounds, Alexander (who has been timed at 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash) was not big enough for the work required of an interior defensive lineman in the NFL, many teams determined.
With the Redskins seeking depth along the offensive line during the offseason, Greg Blache, who coaches the defensive line, permitted Alexander to work on offense. Washington had to shuffle things on the offensive line after starting right tackle Jon Jansen and starting right guard Randy Thomas were injured in the first two games, opening the door wider for Alexander. The Redskins used Alexander as a tight end in their "jumbo" packages that include multiple tight ends, one of which usually is an offensive lineman.
Alexander performed so well that Gibbs and associate head coach-offense Al Saunders continue to develop more ways to use him each week. "You have to be impressed with the way he's handled it," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "He's played extremely well and shown he can play both sides of the ball."
The loss of Thomas prompted Saunders to adjust some blocking schemes to better suit the strengths of right guard Jason Fabini, a 10-year veteran who played tackle for his first nine seasons, and Alexander's athleticism has enabled Saunders to call running plays with him as a pulling guard. Alexander also has gone in motion on some plays and performed well in pass protection.
"The last game, he lined up as a guard, he lined up as a tight end, he lined up as a fullback. Those are three very, very complex positions in any offensive scheme," Saunders said. "His physical ability, his physical stature and his athleticism allow him to do those things."
The increased workload has not overwhelmed Alexander. "As long as we go out there and we rep it, I'm fine," he said. "The reps are important. Sometimes we might put something in, and if we don't rep it the week of practice, I have to go back and make sure I look that over because I won't feel comfortable."
Alexander has enjoyed most of the new experiences on offense, but "when I'm out there lining up at [tight end] and motioning and doing stuff like that, it's strange," he said. "I'm not used to doing it but it's fun."
With a salary-cap number of $288,000, Alexander is one of the most cost-effective players in the league. His salary increases to $370,000 next season and $460,000 in 2009.
Eventually, the Redskins would prefer to have Alexander concentrate on one job. "Once someone slips and lets him get into a starting position, they may never get it back," Williams said. "I think that's how good he is."
Of course, first the Redskins must determine whether Alexander would make the biggest impact on defense or offense. "Well, if you're an offensive coach, you say offense. If you're a defensive coach, you say defense," Saunders said. "He has the talent to play wherever he can help the team most."
Alexander would prefer to leave things as they are, especially since he enjoys the work.
"Why not be able to play both?" Alexander said. "That keeps my worth around here real high."
Redskins Notes: Rookie safety LaRon Landry, who sat out practice Thursday because of an injury to his quadriceps, participated in full drills yesterday and is expected to play against the Vikings. "Up until this point, it's just been about maintaining strength up in that leg," Landry said. "Other than that, I'm fine. No problems."
Tight end Todd Yoder (knee) missed practice for the second day in a row and is doubtful for tomorrow night's game. . . . Offensive lineman Mike Pucillo (back) has been ruled out. . . . Safety Pierson Prioleau (hamstring) was involved in limited drills and will be a game-time decision. "You know how it goes with injuries of this sort," Prioleau said. "You have to wait and see how it works out." . . . Wide receiver Keenan McCardell (calf) is expected to play.