Redskins' Offensive Line Troubles Run Deep

Injuries to Chris Samuels, left, and Randy Thomas force shuffling along the line.
Injuries to Chris Samuels, left, and Randy Thomas force shuffling along the line. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On the day Coach Jim Zorn learned he would be without his Pro Bowl left tackle for at least one week, he uncomfortably fielded questions about how the Washington Redskins had built their shaky offensive line. He said that the team made "a strong effort to seek a free agent" in the offseason, and, when asked whether the team should be addressing its line needs in the draft, Zorn said: "Yeah, yeah, sometimes you have to do that."

But for the most part, the Redskins haven't done that in recent years, and they're now faced with fielding a patchwork offensive line against the winless Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Left tackle Chris Samuels is expected to miss the game because of a neck injury, which means Zorn has to shuffle a group of offensive linemen that already had been struggling. Taking over at left tackle and charged with protecting quarterback Jason Campbell's blind side will likely be starting right tackle Stephon Heyer. Mike Williams will play right tackle, and either Chad Rinehart or Will Montgomery will line up at right guard, a spot vacated two weeks ago when Randy Thomas was placed on injured reserve.

Losing Thomas and Samuels is the nightmare scenario coaches had hoped to avoid. In Heyer, they have an undrafted free agent who has struggled mightily on the right side. In Williams, they have someone who on Sunday played his first pro game since 2005. Rinehart has played in two games during his brief two-year career, while Montgomery, after not playing a down last season, has been active and played sparingly in all five Redskins games this season.

"You can only work with what you have right now," Zorn said.

Zorn said Samuels has been playing the past three seasons with stenosis -- a narrowing in the spine -- which is why he plays with large neck pads protruding from the back of his jersey. He suffered a stinger early against Carolina, and, after he had an MRI exam Monday morning, Zorn decided to shut him down for a week, "just to quiet this thing down."

Zorn said he didn't know how long Samuels might be out, and until he's ready to play again, the Redskins will try their best with the spare parts that remain, which probably isn't good news for Campbell. While protecting his quarterback's blind side, Samuels had earned his way to six Pro Bowls.

With Samuels watching from the sideline, Campbell was sacked five times against the Panthers. He has been sacked 13 times on the season; only five quarterbacks in the league have been sacked more. With little time in the pocket, Campbell was unable to make his progressions, and the Redskins had to limit their game plan. Tight end Chris Cooley, one of Campbell's favorite targets, was forced to block at the line rather than run pass routes. He was held without a catch for the first time since November 2004.

Of Campbell's 17 completions Sunday, only three were for more than 10 yards; of his six incompletions, only two came on deep routes.

Zorn said Campbell can't afford to play differently, even if the line charged with protecting him doesn't resemble the team's preseason vision.

"Part of the game for the quarterback is to go at every snap. It doesn't matter who's out there. Every snap he has to go as if he's going to get fully protected," Zorn said. "That's how he has to play the game, so we have no excuses that way, especially at the quarterback position. He goes back and he can't have a sense that there's not going to be protection because he can't do his job."

The Redskins' running game also will be affected. The Panthers' rush defense entered Sunday's game last in the NFL, allowing more than 182 yards per game. The Redskins managed just 74 yards on 24 carries.

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