By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 12, 2009
CHARLOTTE, Oct. 11 -- On the Washington Redskins' second play from scrimmage Sunday afternoon, Mike Williams lined his 370-pound body up at right guard, a position with which he became familiar just this past week. Williams blocked for quarterback Jason Campbell, who found running back Clinton Portis in the flat for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
For the first time since 2005, Williams was in a regular season NFL game celebrating a regular season score. And then, he turned around.
"I didn't know who was down," he said. On the ground, dazed, lay 10-year veteran Chris Samuels. On the same play, Samuels went to block Carolina defensive end Tyler Brayton. The two butted heads. Brayton kept charging. Samuels fell to the ground. His day was over, the victim of a "stinger," which sends a tingling sensation down one side of the body. As center Casey Rabach said: "That's a scary injury,"
Now, the Redskins must be downright frightened. Though Samuels's condition had improved afterward -- "I actually feel a lot better," he said -- the situation put further emphasis on the fact that no part of the team is as perilously thin as the offensive line.
The Redskins played virtually all of their 20-17 loss to the Panthers with D'Anthony Batiste -- career total of four games, none since 2007 -- in place of Samuels at left tackle. They played with Williams, a tackle by trade who hadn't played in four seasons, filling the right guard spot that became a problem when veteran Randy Thomas was lost for the season to a torn triceps. That predicament fundamentally changed how the Redskins could play Sunday.
"It definitely impacted some of the comfort level that I had," Coach Jim Zorn said.
After Thomas went down in a Week 2 win over St. Louis -- a game in which he was replaced by third-year player Will Montgomery -- the Redskins started Chad Rinehart, a third-round pick in 2008, at right guard for the next two games. Rinehart struggled some, and slowly, over the next two weeks, they began to give Williams work at right tackle in practice. When the team regrouped for workouts last Wednesday, Rinehart got the news.
"They put big Mike in there and decided to go with him," Rinehart said. "They didn't really say much."
Williams had started only two games at guard in his career, including his last appearance in an NFL game -- Nov. 27, 2005 for Buffalo against Carolina.
"It was good to get back in," Williams said. "It was exciting. Definitely a new position, so it is challenging -- especially when you had to learn it in just three days."
Perhaps nothing emphasizes the Redskins' predicament along the offensive front as much as that statement: They asked a 29-year-old tackle who had to lose more than 100 pounds just to make the roster to play a position with which he has almost no experience in a crucial game.
"Even when we were developing that with Chad, we were hoping to see what Mike Williams could do in there," Zorn said. "So we gave him some reps. He looked pretty good."
That experiment would have been a lot for the Redskins' offensive unit, which has struggled to score all year, to handle. But then Samuels went down. The 32-year-old has been named to six Pro Bowls and has started 141 NFL games. The next man on the depth chart: Batiste, 27, who was signed by the Redskins off Atlanta's practice squad last December. He hadn't appeared in a game for Washington. Each of his four NFL games, all for the Falcons, came at guard. Yet here he was, subbing for Samuels at left tackle, the most important position on the line.
"I talked to him a lot," Campbell said. "Just tell him whatever he can do, do his best. Whatever it takes to hold up. Just do what he can to give me an opportunity. It's a tough situation to be in. You come in playing a different position. There's no way you can explain it."
With Batiste in the game on the Redskins' second possession, Washington moved the ball into Carolina territory. On third and eight, Campbell went back to pass. Carolina defensive end Everette Brown attacked Batiste, used a spin move, and ran right by him. He sacked Campbell, causing a fumble. The Redskins recovered, but still: Drive over.
"He got beat by their best pass rusher," Zorn said. "It hurt. I will tell you this: He sucked it up and did a great job as we went along, and we helped them -- both tackles, both sides. . . . But it was very difficult to get any longer-developing plays down the field."
The Redskins' longest play from scrimmage was a 23-yard pass from Campbell to Santana Moss. Zorn, knowing Campbell would have very little time, called slants and short pass routes. Campbell, even with the quicker pass patterns, was sacked five times. The Redskins managed just 198 yards of offense. It didn't take much to figure out: The overhauled line completely limited the Redskins' options.
"They knew, because you can see how they [were] teeing off," Campbell said. "One time we called a play action and they [were] back there. They understand that we had some new guys in there and take nothing away from our guys, it's just a tough situation to be in."
Batiste's view of the experience? "I have to look at the film," he said. He declined to answer any other questions.
After the Panthers took the lead in the fourth quarter, the Redskins faced third and seven near midfield. Campbell dropped back, but was flushed forward. The pocket collapsed. Brown and fellow end Charles Johnson tripped him up, well short of the necessary yardage.
As his teammates walked off the field, Rabach, the center, raised his arms in the air. He kicked at a towel on the ground, clearly in frustration. Then he walked back to the bench, where he joined Samuels, wearing a sweatshirt, and Thomas, his arm in a brace. They should have been on the field with him. That they weren't says a lot about why the Redskins suffered another excruciating loss.