Redskins' Makeshift Offensive Line Will Be Put to Test vs. Chiefs
Saturday, October 17, 2009
When the Redskins' season began, Stephon Heyer was the team's right tackle, a still-developing 25-year-old in his third year, perhaps Washington's weakest starting offensive lineman. Mike Williams was a man who had lost another person's worth of weight -- more than 100 pounds -- but had not played in a professional football game in four years. And Will Montgomery was a versatile guard-center who had started six NFL games, but was hired because he could back up more than one position, a classic reserve.
When the Redskins line up for their sixth game of the season Sunday -- at FedEx Field against winless Kansas City -- Heyer will be the left tackle, entrusted with manning the most important position on the line. Williams will be at right tackle, the place he played for most of his career -- even though his career, before this comeback season, spanned from 2002 to '05. And Montgomery will be at right guard, a starter for the first time since 2007.
"We don't have a lot of depth right now," offensive line coach Joe Bugel said.
The doomsday scenario comes because Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels is out because of a neck injury -- one some sources believe will cost him the remainder of the season -- and right guard Randy Thomas is out for the year because of a torn triceps. So this week, as he oversaw practice for the group, Bugel was forced to look for reasons for optimism. The Redskins' offense is already struggling; only Washington and St. Louis have failed to score 20 points in a game this year. Now, they must take on the Chiefs with an offensive line that will have to get by more on attitude than on ability.
"Coming to practice, if you're doom and gloom, I don't want you around," Bugel said. "We've got to be happy and enjoy this stuff because it's every day and every week, we've got to tee it up.
"I have a lot of trust in Stephon, I really do. Both of the bookends this week, I don't worry about them."
Heyer, though, has struggled during his career as a run blocker, and he has had problems with pass protection this year as well. Now, he must switch sides of the field and face the opponent's most capable pass rusher. When Samuels went down with a triceps injury last December, Heyer played on the left side, and he did the same throughout his college career at Maryland.
"I'm going to have to get back used to it because I've been doing right tackle since the beginning of the season, but I have done it before," he said. " . . . I've just got to switch it around in my mind."
The problems, though, don't lie just with Heyer or Williams or Montgomery as individuals. This group has not played together as a unit. Center Casey Rabach, whom Coach Jim Zorn calls "the glue," and left guard Derrick Dockery are the only Redskins who are playing their original positions. That fact -- without even considering the abilities of the new players -- fundamentally changes how the line works.
"Especially on the offensive line, chemistry is a huge deal," Samuels said. "The only way you can get that down is just through time, playing together. I remember when Derrick Dockery first got here, we had our growing pains. We struggled playing beside each other. . . . It's just going to take time to get better. Hopefully they'll jell much faster than me and Derrick did."
That, the offensive players know, is asking a lot. Quarterback Jason Campbell pointed out that Heyer has played well at left tackle in the past, and he encouraged Heyer to watch film and break down pass rushers with Samuels, who is in his 10th season. But Heyer has never played alongside Dockery, and Williams has never played alongside Montgomery. Kansas City will certainly know about the disruption and try to take advantage.
"Sometimes it's not always based on the guy who's over you," Campbell said. "Sometimes you may have to help another guy. You may have to kick out. . . . That's why I said communication's big."
When Samuels went out on the Redskins' second offensive play in last week's loss at Carolina, D'Anthony Batiste -- a fourth-year pro who had spent much of his time on practice squads -- had to step in. Chaos ensued, and Zorn had to overhaul what plays he called, and when. The Panthers completely blew up the line on a running play from the 3-yard line, a play that resulted in a safety. Zorn could not call plays down the field, and he had to keep tight end Chris Cooley in to block.
Zorn said he believes a week of work together will change that. And he watched his linemen this week -- not just the work that they did, but the attitude they adopted.
"I saw those guys sort of bristle up about all the outside comments, about all the 'Oh, my gosh, we're brand new at this,' and really take pride in what they did this" week, Zorn said Friday. "They really have worked hard."
At that moment, Zorn looked out at the practice field. With the workout over, several linemen remained, working out a few final kinks. "I'm proud of the work they did," Zorn said.