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Heyer Needs Time to Right Ship on the Left

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008

DETROIT, Oct. 26 -- Stephon Heyer knows there is a vast difference between being a man on the Washington Redskins' offensive line and the man at a certain spot, making his start Sunday against the Lions all the more convoluted. He wants to be a starter and was thankful for the opportunity for extended playing time after dealing with a left shoulder injury for more than a month.

But he wants to be the starter at right tackle, four spots over from where he lined up against Detroit. Filling in for Chris Samuels, who pulled himself from the game before kickoff, Heyer played the entire game at left tackle. Admittedly, he was inconsistent. Coach Jim Zorn said Heyer was responsible for the pressure that led to a fourth-quarter fumble by quarterback Jason Campbell.

But overall Heyer said it was just a matter of re-familiarizing himself with the speed of a pass rush, of adjusting to the playing on the side he would prefer not to occupy.

"It's a little frustrating, you know, 'cause I want to be the right tackle," Heyer said. "I want to play there, but if Jon [Jansen] is doing well, it's the coach's decision to make him where he's at, and I back coaches 100 percent. When they're ready for me to be the ultimate starter for the Washington Redskins, I'll be ready."

He may have to be ready even if that's not the case. Samuels will undergo an MRI exam Monday on his right knee for an injury he aggravated Oct. 12 against St. Louis. Samuels's absence from the lineup broke his streak of 73 consecutive starts. He said he went through 10 minutes of warmups Sunday but could go no further.

Heyer practiced more at left tackle than on the right side the past two weeks, though he was under the impression Samuels would start against Detroit. Heyer said he felt much more comfortable after halftime, but his most crucial mistake came late in the fourth quarter.

On third and 10 from the Detroit 13-yard line with just more than two minutes remaining, Lions defensive end Dewayne White executed a twist stunt, which Heyer failed to pick up. White sacked Campbell and forced the ball loose. Jansen recovered the fumble, and Shaun Suisham made a 42-yard field goal on the following play, but Heyer's poor execution still drew Zorn's ire.

"On the one play down there where we got the ball fumbled, [Heyer] missed his block," Zorn said. "He missed his block. . . . He didn't like it, either. We didn't like it, and our O-line didn't like it. Nobody liked it. But it did happen, and those are the little things that make the difference between a good team and a team that's just trying to find itself."

Heyer has been trying to find himself since his rookie season a year ago. He filled in for Jansen when the veteran suffered a season-ending ankle injury during the first week of the 2007 season. Heyer was named the starter at right tackle during training camp this year. Finally, he thought, a chance to be the man.

But during the first quarter of Washington's game against Arizona on Sept. 21, Heyer separated his left shoulder and did not make another start until Sunday. Jansen stepped back into the spot he had owned for nine seasons and played well enough to keep it. Heyer, meanwhile, played sparingly while waiting for his shoulder to heal.

"I was a little worried about [my left shoulder], but the docs helped me out," Heyer said. "They gave me a little something before [Sunday's] game, and it ended up being not a problem for me. I really wasn't paying attention to it at all, really."

Samuels's MRI exam may clarify the severity of his knee injury, but Heyer indicated he may be playing left tackle for the near future. "I'm probably going to be working more so on the left side than I am on the right," Heyer said. "I've got to make sure I can stay with my protection."

Left guard Pete Kendall said he thought Heyer did well enough filling in for Samuels, a Pro Bowl left tackle. Tailback Clinton Portis rushed for 126 yards, and the Redskins improved to 6-2 on the season.

"Well, we'll have to take a look at the film," Kendall said. "I'm sure, like everybody, there were some ups and downs, but [Heyer] was a part of a group that helped a back go over 100 [yards rushing], so he must have done well enough."

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