Patchwork Line Must Hold Fast
Fill-Ins Charged With Helping Salvage Redskins' Playoff Hopes

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008

As rookie offensive lineman Chad Rinehart watched Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, he had a pretty good idea that his role with the Washington Redskins might soon change. Starting tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen had left the game because of injuries, and Rinehart, inactive in every game, readied himself to do more.

"It's kind of an unfortunate way to get an opportunity, but at the same time, you know you always have to be prepared for anything," said Rinehart, Washington's third-round pick in the this year's draft. "If this is the week, I feel like I'm ready to go."

With Samuels having suffered a season-ending upper-arm injury, Jansen not expected to play this Sunday because of knee damage and reserve center-tackle Justin Geisinger (knee) also out for the remainder of the season, the Redskins shuffled things along the offensive line this week in preparation for their game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. In addition to second-year tackle Stephon Heyer returning to the starting lineup in place of Samuels, journeyman Jason Fabini rejoined the first team at right tackle in practice. Washington plans to activate Rinehart for the first time and signed tackle Devin Clark and guards Will Montgomery and D'Anthony Batiste.

Reeling after an unexpectedly impressive start, the Redskins are trying to hold it together and win their last three games in an effort to remain in the NFC wild-card race, and a makeshift line must do its part to help spark a turnaround, offensive linemen said.

"No matter who's out there, we've just got to get it done," right guard Randy Thomas said. "We can't make excuses and we can't wait and hope it gets better, we can't worry about what's happened in the past, because we've just got to block 'em up when the play gets called and keep on going. You hate to lose your guys, yeah, but you know injuries are part of this game. You can't let that stop you."

The Redskins (7-6) will play their final three games -- at Cincinnati (1-11-1), home against Philadelphia (7-5-1) and at San Francisco (5-8) -- without Samuels, who must undergo surgery to repair a torn right triceps. The injury occurred while the five-time Pro Bowler, slowed for much of the season by a nagging knee injury that prompted him to sit out a victory over the Detroit Lions on Oct. 26, was pass blocking on the first play of the fourth quarter against Baltimore. An MRI exam on Monday revealed the extent of the tear.

In the first half at M&T Bank Stadium, Jansen experienced knee pain that Washington's medical staff has diagnosed as a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. An ankle injury in the opener against Miami ended Jansen's 2007 season, and he missed the entire 2004 season because of a ruptured Achilles' tendon. Geisinger was injured after taking over for Samuels against the Ravens.

Although Jansen, the Redskins' longest-tenured player, has not been ruled out of Sunday's game, Washington has prepared to move forward with two new starting tackles against the Bengals. Fabini has been inactive in nine of 13 games, but the 11-year veteran played in every game last season and started 13 after Thomas missed most of the season with a triceps injury.

Heyer played in 12 games, starting five, as an undrafted rookie free agent from Maryland in 2007. He began this season as the starting right tackle after Jansen was demoted to the second-team because he often was ineffective in pass protection during the preseason, but Heyer suffered a shoulder injury early in the season and Jansen reclaimed the position. Heyer played for the first time in five games Sunday night.

The Redskins hope rookies Rinehart, who struggled in pass protection in the preseason, and Clark, an undrafted free agent the front office promoted from the practice squad, are capable of providing depth and competition at the position. "We have seen a lot of growth from both Chad and Devin since the start of the season," offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. "We always talked about the fact that everybody in the offensive line room has to have a starter's mentality. During the week, we try to provide them different reps at both the guard and tackle positions to get them ready."

Said Jansen: "It's a long year, and sooner or later, chances are you're going to get your shot. You better be ready to make the most of it, and they've done a great job preparing, so they'll do well."

The line has come under intense scrutiny for its struggles in pass protection during a 1-4 stretch in which quarterback Jason Campbell has been sacked and hit often. The Redskins rank 29th in the league in scoring, averaging only 16.8 points per game, and the line's performance has been a major factor in the lack of production on offense.

"We haven't been playing winless teams every week or teams that were in the bottom third in the league. We've been playing teams in the top third in the league," left guard Pete Kendall said. "Some of them haven't been close as far as the final score, but physically, the games have been competitively matched.

"They just haven't turned our way for one reason or another. Am I stunned to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Ravens and the [New York] Giants? That's an awfully strong word to say. But it is disappointing that we've only found a way to win one of the last five? Obviously, it is."

Last in the NFC East, Washington trails Tampa Bay (9-4), Dallas (8-5), Atlanta (8-5) and Philadelphia for one of the conference's two wild-card berths. Obviously, the Redskins would rather not make their final playoff push with a patchwork offensive line and only unproven rookies in reserve, but that is their situation.

"You know this is something that you're probably going to have to deal with at some point during the year," center Casey Rabach said. "Would it be great if you could make it through the year with everybody being healthy? Sure, but that doesn't happen too often. That's why you count on everybody on your team, and when you bring young guys in, they're here for a reason."

Despite their age and injury concerns along the offensive line, the Redskins used their top three draft picks on wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and pass-catching tight end Fred Davis, who have 18 receptions between them. With their first pick in the third round (No. 96 overall), the Redskins took Rinehart from Northern Iowa. He started at tackle in 37 of 40 games in his collegiate career and has worked at both tackle and guard with the Redskins.

After a rough experience in preseason games, Rinehart said he lost "my confidence a little. Just kind of lost some confidence getting beat. I wasn't very confident in my sets. I wasn't playing the way I should have been playing."

Coach Jim Zorn and Bugel hope that is behind Rinehart. "I think he has gained his confidence in knowing what our calls are and things like that," Zorn said. "But until you get into the fight, you just don't know. He's going to have to get into the fight for us to know and for him to know."

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