By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The success of the Redskins' offensive line -- and by extension the entire offense -- was predicated on the tenuous health of its veteran anchors. Now with Randy Thomas lost for the season, there's a vacancy sign at right guard, and team officials find themselves scrambling to find solutions for both the short and long term.
Though Coach Jim Zorn wouldn't commit to his young reserves at a news conference Monday, Chad Rinehart, the second-year guard out of Northern Iowa who's yet to play an NFL down, is expected to make his first career start on Sunday at the Detroit Lions.
Rinehart was a third-round selection in the 2008 draft who was only active for three games last season.
Coaches and Vinny Cerrato, the executive vice president of football operations, were impressed by Rinehart's offseason progress and preseason effort -- "A different player than last year, that's for sure," said center Casey Rabach -- though the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Rinehart was inactive for both of the Redskins' games this year.
Because the team activates only two reserve linemen on game days, Will Montgomery participated in the team's first two games because he can play both center and guard.
"It's just kind of the way it goes," Rinehart said. "If someone goes down, I just kind expected to start dressing after that. I'm just kind of taking the mental reps and just being ready to go; practicing hard and just paying attention."
Coaches and players were impressed with Montgomery's play after he replaced Thomas, who is headed to surgery to repair torn right triceps, in the second quarter of Sunday's 9-7 victory over the Rams. In fact, at least initially the changing of the right guard was almost seamless.
"I didn't even notice he was in there for a few plays," said Rabach. "I really didn't. I came back to the huddle after the second or third play he was in there, and I said, 'When did you come here?' He was like, 'I've been here for three plays.' "
"Will is a guy who doesn't talk, doesn't say a whole lot. He asks for the call, he gets the call, and he just goes about his business."
Lined up on the other side of Montgomery, right tackle Stephon Heyer said he instinctually takes notice whenever Thomas isn't next to him. As players and coaches know all too well, Thomas is tough to replace.
"Communication was a little different. Will's not much of a talker," Heyer said. "And Randy's not whole much of a talker either, but he does come out and say things that are important when needed."
Even though the team returned seven linemen from last season's roster, depth on the line was an area of concern heading into training camp. Throughout the preseason, coaches were disappointed with how the second-string unit played. But they liked how some of the reserves, particularly Rinehart, performed when plugged in with the starting five. Zorn said the starters "kind of help him rise up."
Players have Tuesday off, which leaves four days to prepare for the Lions. It's unlikely the team would be able to pick up another lineman who would be able to contribute Sunday. But Zorn did not rule out the possibility of looking outside the organization to plug the guard gap.
"Detroit has an excellent defense, they have two big tackles, and we've got to have somebody that can communicate with our terminology and kind of the way we're training our guys," Zorn said. "They've got to step right in."
Zorn said he planned to speak with offensive line coach Joe Bugel about veteran guard Pete Kendall, who played the past two seasons for the Redskins and is currently a free agent. "I've already had a conversation in my mind about that," Zorn told reporters.
Kendall said Monday he hasn't heard from Redskins officials.
But the immediate plan probably will call for Rinehart and Montgomery to share the position. Montgomery has started six NFL games -- four with Carolina in 2006 and two with the New York Jets in 2007 -- and Redskins coaches have said he was one of the biggest surprises of training camp.
The long-term forecast at right guard could depend on which player shows the most continued development in the coming days and weeks.
"I fully expect that person to rise up," Zorn said. "Will he be the kind of player Randy was going to be? We'll see. We'll give that person some time. But that person will have to fill some big Randy Thomas shoes."
At 33 and facing his fourth surgery in three years, Thomas's professional future is suddenly in jeopardy. "I am just very disappointed right now," he said in a statement. "It hurts because I want to be out there with my teammates. I worked really hard in the offseason and was looking forward to this year."
Thomas was at Redskins Park on Monday but wasn't made available to reporters. His teammates said news of yet another injury greatly upset the veteran guard.
"After the game, he was emotional sitting in the training room getting treatment," said fullback Mike Sellers. "He's worked so hard -- so hard -- to come back. He's probably one of the hardest workers on the team when it came to getting his arm right, being in the weight room, being here in the offseason. It's frustrating for him because he just went through it. For him to go through it again, I feel for him, because he has worked so hard."
Thomas renegotiated his contract in January 2008 and his current deal runs through 2013. He has a base salary of $1.6 million this season and a cap number of more than $5 million.
"He's one of the rocks on that line," said left tackle Chris Samuels. "Any time you lose Randy, a guy of that caliber, it's going to be tough. But we got guys who will step in there and fill that role.
Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.