By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Late yesterday morning, Stephon Heyer performed the duties offensive linemen perform at this time of year. He jumped over bags someone had placed on the ground. He hit a bag someone else was holding. He even stretched a green cap over his Washington Redskins helmet and impersonated a defensive lineman so other members of the offense could run a play.
Yet as the Redskins went through the first of what will be eight offseason workouts stretched over the next two weeks, his world was decidedly different than just four days earlier, an extension of how much his life has changed in the two years since he went without his name being called in the NFL draft.
On Friday, the Redskins released veteran tackle Jon Jansen. Yesterday, Coach Jim Zorn said, "If we had to line up today, Stephon Heyer would be our right tackle."
One issue: The Redskins do not have to line up today, or tomorrow, or next week -- other than in these series of light practices, in which they do not wear pads, therefore making any evaluation incomplete. But just as Zorn deemed the right tackle position perhaps his chief offensive concern entering training camp, which begins late next month, Heyer spoke about his new circumstance.
"I feel like I have the ability to be a starter," Heyer said. "I've kind of proven that I'm no longer a backup. . . . Nothing was ever given to me. I had to work for it, and I took my opportunity when I had them and I made them happen."
So that is just what this is: Another opportunity that is by no means guaranteed. Jansen had been here longer than any current Redskin; he thus had earned a certain stature in the locker room.
Heyer, 25 and entering his third season out of Maryland, does not enjoy such a position. Jansen started 123 games for this franchise; Heyer has started 12. And three days after Zorn delivered the news to Jansen, he delivered a message to the men now competing for Jansen's old spot -- Heyer and a pair of veterans signed as free agents, Mike Williams and Jeremy Bridges.
"That was one of the things that I think has been the biggest question mark for me after the season was over," Zorn said. "I didn't think it was locked down by Jon at the end of the season, and I didn't think as we went through the offseason, either. . . . I've told all these guys, 'This position is really open.' It's legitimately open, and we're looking for the right guy there."
Zorn determined last year, coming out of training camp, Heyer was the right guy for the job because he was a better pass blocker than Jansen. Now, though, he, offensive line coach Joe Bugel and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith are looking for a player who can both run and pass block efficiently.
As offseason workouts grind on, the coaches will consider all aspects of each player. Williams, for instance, is still trying to lose weight. He said he was down to 380 pounds yesterday from a high of roughly 450 earlier in the year, the result of not playing in the NFL since 2005. Bridges has worked both at tackle and at guard during a six-year NFL career, and Zorn said, "We'll see where that comfort zone is. It may not be right tackle for him. It may be inside. I don't know."
"Doesn't make any difference to me, man," Bridges said. "Wherever I'm needed that day, that's where I feel comfortable."
Despite his weight, Williams is not limited during these workouts. The 2002 first-round pick said he would like to get his weight down to 345 pounds, which is what he played at while at Texas. Williams said he was surprised by Jansen's release, but he didn't exactly start angling for the starting job yesterday.
"I'm not a guy to get into politics on whose position, his to lose, whose to win," Williams said. "We're just gonna get out there, and we're gonna push each other. I know me and Stephon [are] gonna push each other. He's gonna be the best right tackle he can be, and I am as well, and we'll let the coaches decide who they want in there. Can't play politics."
Zorn and the coaching staff will not choose the winner of this derby for political reasons, either. In a roundabout way, Heyer learned that last season, when he suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth game, was replaced by Jansen, and then was not reinserted as a starter when he got healthy.
"It humbles you," Heyer said yesterday. "Actually, I've never had any ill-will feelings. Of course I wasn't happy with the scenario. Being a starter, you usually have an opportunity to come back and get your spot due to injury. I mean, I can't control getting hurt, so it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth."
The hunger, now, is for a job that is very much within his grasp. Heyer realizes if the season started today, he would be the starting right tackle. He also realizes, above all else, the season doesn't start today.
"It narrows down the competition a little bit, but it's still competition nonetheless," Heyer said "Nothing is guaranteed. I'm not awarded anything until I start that first game of the season."
Redskins Note: Charges against Bridges stemming from a Dec. 7 incident at a North Carolina restaurant were dropped. He was accused of spraying champagne on other customers and getting into a dispute with a restaurant employee while he celebrated his anniversary with his wife.