A Starting Job, Not Their Friendship, Is on the Line
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston bonded early in their rookie year, when they shared a modest apartment with a single television and never fought over the remote control. They spent evenings engrossed by the Discovery Channel -- a documentary on lions first brought them together -- and, as Montgomery puts it, "we've been joined at the hip since."
The defensive tackles were selected in successive rounds by the Redskins in 2006 and they forged a relationship based on mutual respect that has withstood their constant competition for playing time. They lived together through part of 2007, and Golston, from rural Georgia, finally lured Montgomery, a city slicker from Cleveland, into some fishing trips this offseason. Their emergence is a source of pride for the franchise -- Washington largely has failed to find late-round gems this decade -- and both have proved to be competent interior linemen.
But even now, three seasons into their development, their growth is measured practice by practice, with little separating them. They are still battling to be the left nose tackle opposite veteran Cornelius Griffin, with Golston holding that role for much of their rookie year, and Montgomery earning the distinction in 2007. Golston, 25, is again the starter this preseason -- including Saturday night's 13-10 exhibition win over the New York Jets at Giants Stadium -- with Montgomery, 24, falling behind at least in part by missing two weeks with a broken hand.
Barring injury, every other starting spot is a virtual lock, save for punter.
"They're both very talented young players," said defensive coordinator Greg Blache, who believes in rotating his linemen. "One started at one time, and one started at another time, and it just depends who brings their lunch pail and who brings the best production on a day-to-day basis."
Golston (6 feet 4, 320 pounds) played the first quarter Saturday night -- the starters retired to the sidelines after that -- and spent some time chatting with defensive line coach John Palermo between series after the Jets picked up a fourth and one by running inside. The Jets won the war at the line during their touchdown drive as well, with Golston having to battle a few double-teams.
"I think I was where I needed to be for the most part, and did some good things," Golston said. "I'm pretty sure the coach will have some things to say to me about some other things, but that's why we have these games -- to go out there and get better."
Montgomery (6-6, 315 pounds) benefited from facing more feeble offensive linemen when the second units entered the game, and when he was double-teamed he still occasionally established an inside push, contributing to one sack. That discrepancy in the caliber of the opponent makes comparing Golston and Montgomery difficult -- and increases the importance of their play in practice. (Regardless of who emerges, versatile lineman Demetric Evans is thriving next to Griffin in the nickel defense, and stands to displace both youngsters in many third-down situations.)
For all their off-field similarities -- "We're the kind of guys who can sit out on the pond all day and we don't even have to be catching no fish," Golston says. "We can just be relaxing and enjoying each other's company." -- Montgomery should have won this job long ago. On pure athletic ability -- explosion, ability to penetrate the backfield, dexterity -- he is a different type, but nowhere do heart, guts and determination matter more than in the trenches, and those characteristics resonate deeply with Blache, an old-school taskmaster.
Golston, a father of two, rose to a starter as a rookie when many wondered if he'd even make the team. Even when Montgomery, who is going to become a father for the first time in February, improved his technique and conditioning, starting 15 games in 2007, Golston hovered just behind. "If I had a bad game I knew Kedric would be the starter," Montgomery said.
Blache raised needling Montgomery to an art form during his rookie season, and confirms that Montgomery remains a target. "We stay on Anthony," Blache said, calling Montgomery "Tootsie Roll" this summer. "We'll see if the light bulb is on. The bulb might be on, but nobody may still be home. We don't know. . . . At some point he's going to have to grow up and do it for himself."
Montgomery said: "It's not as bad as it was my rookie year, but Coach Blache likes to take his shots at me here and there, every chance he gets. If they feel that's how they've got to motivate me, then that's fine. I feel like I'm already motivated, but I don't mind the jokes."
As likable as he is, Montgomery may never be able to flip the switch to become bloodthirsty on demand. Not everyone can be Griffin -- doting family man and gentle giant during the week; a Rambo-esque hellion on Sundays -- though eventually the Redskins must find someone to replace the 31-year-old Griffin, who has battled injuries in recent years.
Whether Montgomery and Golston will ever regularly start side-by-side is an ongoing evaluation, and this will be a pivotal season for both. They each will earn $445,000 in the final year of their initial contracts, with restricted free agency looming. As it stands, when one plays, the other sits, though their friendship remains intact.
"He knows I'm going to work hard, and I know he's going to work hard, and it's only going to bring the best out in both of us," Golston said. " I think that's a great thing to have."