By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 2, 2010; D01
With the imminent departure of six-time Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan knows one of his biggest offseason needs will center on one of the biggest offensive positions.
With just one sure starter under contract for 2010, the Redskins' offensive line could undergo a major facelift, but no spot on the line is more critical than left tackle, which Samuels is vacating after 10 strong seasons, almost all of them spent protecting the blind side of Washington quarterbacks.
Risking potentially life-altering spinal problems if he returns to the field, Samuels is expected to make his retirement official at a news conference Thursday, 12 hours before the free agency period officially begins at midnight. In the meantime, Redskins coaches, who began their jobs realizing the 32-year-old Samuels wasn't likely in their 2010 plans, will continue evaluating possible replacements, in the free agent market and in the draft.
As the NFL Scouting Combine comes to a close Tuesday in Indianapolis, talent evaluators and league analysts agree that this year's offensive linemen are an especially deep and skilled group. Though the draft is still more than seven weeks away, and the Redskins might be interested in a quarterback with the fourth overall pick, no one denies the importance of a left tackle.
"I'd take 'em as soon as I could get 'em," said Charley Casserly, the former Redskins general manager who's now an analyst for CBS Sports and the NFL Network. "History shows if you analyze Pro Bowl rosters, most tackles in the Pro Bowl are left tackles and most came in the first round. If you're getting one after that, you're more lucky than good."
A review of the past five Pro Bowls reveals that of the 22 offensive tackles who've been named to the annual all-star game, 14 had been first-round draft picks.
Speaking to reporters in Indianapolis last week, Shanahan briefly assessed the state of the line, focusing on the injuries that forced his predecessor to constantly shuffle his starting five. But with Samuels's departure, it's clear the Redskins' depth problems aren't something that will simply heal with time.
"I don't think anybody can protect a quarterback when they lose an All-Pro left tackle," Shanahan said, "they lose one of the best leaders, one of the better offensive linemen at the [right] guard and you have injuries throughout the offensive line through the season. You've got to be real lucky, too. You can't have a rash of injuries at any position. But we're going to try to get as much depth, try to get quality players, to obviously try to protect the quarterback."
Currently, the Redskins can count on Derrick Dockery to start at left guard. Center Casey Rabach could become an unrestricted free agent, but the Redskins are in negotiations and will likely sign him before then. Beyond that, Washington will have to make decisions at left tackle, right guard, where the Redskins used five starters last season, and right tackle, where Stephon Heyer has struggled.
Right guard Randy Thomas, who played only two games last season before suffering a season-ending triceps injury, is 34 and will be entering his 12th NFL season, and it's not certain what role he'd have on Shanahan's line.
If the Redskins are intent on using their first-round pick on a quarterback -- Oklahoma's Sam Bradford appears to be the leading candidate, assuming he's medically stable and slips past the St. Louis Rams, who hold the draft's top pick -- Washington's team officials could either hope a sturdy tackle is available in the second round, where the Redskins pick 37th, or fill the void via free agency.
This year's class of unrestricted free agents is not considered an overwhelming one. Green Bay's Chad Clifton and Arizona's Mike Gandy appear to be the top tackles available. San Francisco's Tony Pashos played under Chris Foerster, Washington's new offensive line coach, with the 49ers and in Baltimore. While he seemed like an early favorite, 49ers head coach Mike Singletary said last week that he's hopeful Pashos will be locked up before he can hit the open market.
The Redskins could rely solely on the draft. Many analysts project as many as six offensive linemen as first-round selections, beginning with Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, who could go as high as No. 5, if the Redskins allow him to slip by, and also Rutgers's Anthony Davis. Of Davis, Casserly said he's "probably the most intriguing guy -- run blocking, pass blocking, good, long arms." And of Okung: "He plays to the level of competition. You don't want a guy who's up and down. Real physical, strong guy."
"Okung and Davis seem to be the two guys," Casserly continued. "But it's interesting. Everybody at some point in time told me these guys were top first-round picks. There's four teams in the top nine that need a tackle."
After Okung and Davis, there are a handful of others who will likely hear their names called in the first round.
Oklahoma's Trent Williams impressed many with his combine workout, but he's still projected by most as a right tackle. Maryland's Bruce Campbell turned in the most surprising workout, but questions persist about an inconsistent college career. Bryan Bulaga, who will enter the NFL with a strong pedigree from the University of Iowa, and Southern California's Charles Brown could also be gone by the time the Redskins make their second-round pick.