By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 2, 2008
During the first two weeks of the Washington Redskins' training camp, the defender lined up opposite Chad Rinehart often has ended up on his backside during a drill. What the rookie offensive lineman lacks in technique and savvy, he overcomes with moxie.
Rinehart, a third-round pick out of Northern Iowa, has been working at left tackle and left guard, and he will face his first true test in the team's preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts tomorrow night, when teammates and coaches hope he builds off the buzz he has created on the practice field.
"I think he's caught everybody's attention," Redskins Coach Jim Zorn said. "And the offensive line, I think it's hard to break in with the crusty pups in that group, and he's done a really nice job earning their respect. I think he's going to be a very good future player, and we'll get to see a lot of him this preseason."
Zorn said he can envision Rinehart filling in at right guard eventually as well, but worrying about positions is well down the list of concerns for Rinehart, a native of Iowa still marveling at life in the NFL. He is, at 6 feet 5 and 311 pounds, a true manifestation of the cliche corn-fed lineman. Rinehart, 23, was raised in Boone, Iowa, population 12,000 -- "Pretty decent-sized for Iowa," he said -- and had been to the East Coast twice before: for a game at New Hampshire and later to interview with an agent in New York.
The idea that tomorrow night he's going to be playing in an NFL game, albeit in a preseason game almost entirely devoid of star power, is still a bit surreal.
"I've never been to an NFL game. This will be my first one, and I get to play in it," said Rinehart, a semifinalist for the Draddy Award in college, given to the nation's top scholar-athlete. "And I know I'm going to take a lot of reps, so I just want to go out there and show them I'm capable of playing in this league."
The Redskins began to think Rinehart might be NFL-worthy during the Senior Bowl, when they could see him working alongside the brightest prospects from college football's power conferences. After passing on a bevy of offensive linemen on the first day of the draft, Washington used its first pick of the second day on Rinehart, selecting him 96th overall.
"He wasn't intimidated coming from a small school," Joe Bugel, the Redskins' offensive line coach, said. "And we said, 'Hey, if he's there in the third or fourth round, we want to pick him up, because he's a rugged kid.' "
Bugel is charged with guiding Rinehart's progress and aims to duplicate the rapid ascent he achieved with undrafted free agent tackle Stephon Heyer a year ago. Rinehart is first to point out his recent practices have not been as productive as most were last week.
"I definitely felt like the first week went pretty well, and I kind of learned the offense," he said. "This week, I don't know if I hit a wall or something, but I started to struggle a little bit."
Said Bugel: "He started off, and I said, 'Oh man, this kid has starter potential.' And he hit the wall like all rookies do after that first week of double days going against the redshirts [defense]. But he's a smart kid, and he takes constructive criticism in a good way, and he had a lot better practice" on Thursday.
Trying to master two positions at once, within a new offense, is challenging, and adjusting to blocking bulky defensive tackles has not been easy. "They're treating him like a yard dog right now," Bugel said of the tackles.
Rinehart is learning better hand position and working on getting a quick "punch" with his hands off the snap. No matter the position, Rinehart is bringing a street-fighting approach to his job.
"I like him," starting right tackle and fellow Midwesterner Jon Jansen said. "I think he's a tough kid, smart. He'll go out and hit somebody in the mouth. We can get as many of those guys as we want, and we'll get them to go in the right direction, and we'll teach the technique they have to do. And I think he's willing to do it."
As center Casey Rabach, a Wisconsin product, put it: "As long as he knows who to hit each and every time, I think he'll be a good player."
Thus far, Rinehart has not flinched, even when top defensive ends such as Andre Carter and Jason Taylor get the better of him. But he has yet to step on the field with an NFL quarterback's health in his hands and a crowd watching in the stands. All of that is about to change.
"He's got potential, and he's a learner," starting right guard Randy Thomas said. "But the games will tell. Some guys, when they get the silks on they're a different person. Until he plays a game you don't know."