Early Warning On Redskins' Offensive Line

By Jason La Canfora
Saturday, May 2, 2009

It was only the first 11-on-11 session of the first day of the Washington Redskins' minicamp, with not a single player in full pads, but a glance at the names across the backs of the first-string offensive line could not have bolstered Jason Campbell's confidence after a tumultuous offseason:

Clark, Dockery, Rabach, Rinehart, Heyer.

With Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels and longtime guard Randy Thomas still limited in their returns from major surgery, expect these five players to be shuffled over and over before training camp. But as a snapshot, the lineup projected the lack of depth and alternatives within an aging and injury-prone starting group that failed to run- or pass-block sufficiently during a 2-6 finish to last season.

Devin Clark, 22, the left tackle with Samuels out, is an undrafted free agent who has never played in an NFL game. Derrick Dockery, 28, a solid guard who represents the lone offseason upgrade to this unit, and center Casey Rabach, 31, a linchpin to this offense, were the only projected starters on display. Chad Rinehart, a 23-year-old who was a third-round pick in 2008, never cracked a game-day roster last season, while Stephon Heyer, 25, another undrafted player, struggled as a tackle last year.

"We've got to find a diamond or two in the rough," said running back Clinton Portis, who has voiced his desire for an improved line in the past. "I'm not the GM, I'm not the owner. I'm not the head coach. I talk to 'em, but my opinion . . . you voice your opinion."

Coach Jim Zorn said yesterday at Redskins Park that he does not anticipate any more additions along the offensive line and that the staff is hoping that options emerge from within. Zorn imagines newly signed Mike Williams could help push Heyer and former starter Jon Jansen at right tackle when training camp begins. Williams-- whom Zorn said Sunday weighed 410 pounds but was listed by the team at 370 -- hopes to be able to perform football activities during organized team activities next month.

Three veteran linemen are getting tryouts at the three-day camp, and one of them, Jeremy Bridges, 29, impressed coaches with his footwork and could find himself with a contract and a shot at right tackle next week.

"That position, right now, you hate to say it's up for grabs, because it looks like we don't know what we're doing," Zorn said. "But we're going to find the best guy there. Last year we never settled in on one guy the whole year and we hope we can settle in on one guy."

Banking on Samuels, 31, who will be trying to regain his punch and explosiveness after triceps surgery, without a strong Plan B at left tackle is a gamble. He is also coming off his third straight offseason knee procedure and was slowed by the injury later in the season. Thomas, 33, has become resigned to playing in pain after a series of major surgeries, none more significant than the herniated disc that could have ended his career last year and has him trying to make yet another recovery. And beyond Rabach, there is no one here with pro snapping experience.

Rare is the team that survives an NFL season with the same five linemen who opened it, and of all the potential backups, only Jansen and Williams have any NFL experience of note, with Williams's last game in 2005, when he was earning a reputation for frequent injuries.

"I chose to start working out for personal reasons," Williams said of his return to football, "and in midst of that I thought, 'I feel great, I still have some years left on my body, my back was good.' So I decided I'm going to try to come back, and lo and behold, it came a lot quicker than I thought."

One NFL executive said: "If signing a guy like [Williams] isn't a sign of desperation, I don't know what is. I'm not sure what they're doing on the offensive line."

Such is the situation at Redskins Park, where long shots such as Williams are offered as possible solutions, where Zorn ticks off potential backup guards in rapid succession with no sure thing in the bunch and not much separating one candidate from another.

"Rinehart, [D'Anthony] Batiste, [Rueben] Riley, [Isaiah] Ross, Will Montgomery, they've all been working together," Zorn said. "But you can't really tell anything until they get hit in pads."

Developing Heyer and Rinehart will be imperative.

Rinehart, the only offensive lineman Washington has drafted over a span of 21 selections from 2007 to 2009, was viewed as a marginal NFL player at best during postseason internal reviews, according to team sources, and was inactive despite a slew of injuries late last season.

Zorn described Rinehart as "nervous" last season as he tried to adjust from Northern Iowa to the NFL, but "I look at him now and he's much more relaxed and more powerful." With veteran guards Pete Kendall and Jason Fabini no longer with the team, Rinehart needs to be at the very least worthy of a game-day jersey.

Heyer, who went unselected out of Maryland in 2007 and has thrived in spurts, has first crack at the right tackle job, at least somewhat by default. The Redskins flirted with signing several veteran tackles without doing so, then passed on tackle Michael Oher with the 13th pick in favor of linebacker-defensive end Brian Orakpo.

Jansen is no longer considered a starter by the staff, according to sources, and while Zorn praised Heyer's progress in improving his technique, questions about this group still loom.

"That's not my job to worry about what's going to happen with the organization and who they're going to bring in," Heyer said. "My job is to come in and play to the best of my ability, and maintain my spot."

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