By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 14, 2009
BALTIMORE, Aug. 13 -- With the focus again on their struggling offensive line, the Washington Redskins began the preseason Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens hoping for positive signs from the unit.
The injuries and pass-protection problems of training camp could continue to stir concern, but the first-team offensive line appeared to perform effectively during its brief appearance in a 23-0 loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
A crowd of 70,723 watched as the offensive line, which played without right guard Randy Thomas, who has been slowed because of knee soreness, helped the Redskins' offensive starters gain three first downs in two first-quarter series. Second-year guard Chad Rinehart filled in for Thomas, and quarterback Jason Campbell was not sacked during his outing.
"I was pleased with the pass protection," Coach Jim Zorn said. "But we need to finish drives."
In fact, the only significant pressure Campbell received occurred when the Ravens overloaded the left side on a third-down play and tight end Chris Cooley was beaten by linebacker Antwan Barnes, who took down Campbell as he released the ball.
Campbell also had to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure on some plays, and the starters produced only 45 net yards and no points.
In their internal offseason assessment of what went wrong in the 2-6 second-half collapse last season, the Redskins determined the offensive line was the team's weakest link. Considering the offensive line hasn't had the practice reps coaches would have preferred at this point because of injuries -- and that Campbell is coming off a season in which only three quarterbacks were sacked more -- the Redskins were satisfied with their opening test on a night many key veterans sat out.
As their performance against the Ravens attests, the offensive line, and many of the other position groups, still need a lot of work.
Of course, it could have been worse.
"We felt good," said Campbell, who completed 3 of 6 passes for 38 yards. "We felt comfortable. I thought the offensive line did a good job of protecting. We came out and completed our first two passes. The offensive line gave me good time on one of them."
On the opening play of the game's first possession, the Redskins got a first down when Campbell teamed with Ladell Betts, who started in place of top running back Clinton Portis, on a 12-yard swing pass.
It appeared Campbell intended to start off with a deep ball to wide receiver Devin Thomas, who is competing with Malcolm Kelly to be the starting flanker. Thomas, who opened at split end with top wideout Santana Moss getting the game off, was covered well, so Campbell checked down to Betts.
Two plays later, Campbell and Cooley connected on an 11-yard pass for another first down. On a third-down play, Campbell threw a little high to wide receiver Marques Hagans, who is competing to be the fifth wideout on the roster, along the far sideline. Hagans, who had two dropped passes, leaped but didn't come down with the ball.
"We almost came up with a big play," Campbell said. "I tried to get it to Marques Hagans on the other side of the field. I wish we could have timed that up and connected to keep the ball and get some points out of that drive.
"I felt like we were moving the ball with the plays that we called. We didn't attack them just yet because we were getting into a rhythm, but I felt good. I felt really comfortable. Having some experience helps a lot."
With his team trailing 3-0, Campbell led the offensive starters back on the field with about six minutes to play in the first quarter. The Redskins' second drive started well with Campbell and Antwaan Randle El connecting on a 15-yard gain across the middle. Washington failed to develop a rhythm, ran three more plays and punted. Barnes's pressure occurred on third down with Campbell in the shotgun.
"We're still in training camp," Campbell said. "Everything we do right now is still for teaching tape and still stuff to improve off of. The offensive line did a good job. We got beat on one play, but I don't think that was the offensive line that got beat, so that can't go on them."
With the starter's work done, backup quarterback Todd Collins led the offense in the second quarter.
Collins, beginning his 15th season, completed 8 of 11 passes for 70 yards. With the offense moving late in the first half, second-year tight end Fred Davis fumbled, and the Ravens recovered the ball.
The Redskins recovered Davis's fumble on the previous drive.
"I made a couple mistakes today, that's something that normally doesn't happen," said Davis, who spoke to Coach Jim Zorn on the sideline after his second fumble. "It's over with. I can't dwell on that because I know I'm a better player than that. I've just got to get on to the next one, next week, and hold on to the ball."
Said Zorn: "We dropped some passes and had the fumble on a potential scoring drive. We have to earn the right to finish a drive. We are not finishing drives because of dropped passes and a fumble."
Kelly had three receptions for 25 yards, and Thomas had one catch for 12 yards. It seems their competition is only getting started and could last throughout the preseason. Second-year quarterback Colt Brennan, who hopes to unseat Collins as Campbell's primary backup, finished 4 of 12 with 43 yards and one interception.
Mike Williams's comeback attempt might have hit a snag as the veteran tackle aggravated an abdominal strain that occurred in camp. Williams has shed more than 70 pounds since he signed with the Redskins in April and is trying to regain his footwork and timing after last playing in a regular season game in 2005.
Impressive rookie defensive end-strong-side linebacker Brian Orakpo played a lot in the first half. He opened at linebacker and then moved to his familiar position with his hand down. He appears to have a long way to go working in space in pass coverage.
Coaches have praised the improvement of second-year cornerback Justin Tryon, but Tryon was repeatedly beat in man-to-man coverage. He especially struggled on slant routes and gave up three first downs on third-down passes.
The offense failed to put place kickers Shaun Suisham and Dave Rayner in position to attempt field goals. Presumably, they will get the opportunity at some point in the preseason, which would help them settle the kicking competition.