Redskins focus on offensive line help

By Rick Maese and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 8, 2010

With the ink now dry on their first contract of the free agency season with a player who spent last season on another team's roster, the Redskins will host a series of meetings this week to address the myriad roster needs remaining.

The team has at least two visits scheduled Monday with free agents who could bolster the ranks on both sides of the ball. Veteran running back Willie Parker is expected to meet with team officials, as is his former Pittsburgh teammate, linebacker Larry Foote.

Washington has been relatively quiet since free agency began Friday. The Redskins have hosted at least four offensive linemen but have only signed Artis Hicks. The versatile Hicks, who agreed to a three-year deal Saturday evening, could challenge for the team's starting right guard slot.

Hicks entered the league as a left tackle. He only reluctantly learned to play left guard, then right guard and right tackle in an attempt to improve and extend his career. And after eight seasons in the NFL, Hicks believes he made a wise move.

"You can't win in this league if you don't have a good offensive line, and not only a good offensive line, you've got to have a good offensive line that has good depth," Hicks said. "You have to have guys who can step in and play a lot of different positions and the line won't miss a beat.

"And I think that was one of the things that attracted them [the Redskins] to me, is that I can play four out of the five spots. They know that I can step in and keep things rolling right ahead, as well as be a starter in this league. My versatility . . . that's one of the things that's helped me play in this league for eight years now."

The offensive line is apparently a focal point for General Manager Bruce Allen and Coach Mike Shanahan. But left tackle Chad Clifton shunned the Redskins' offer and instead re-signed with Green Bay, and right tackle Tony Pashos left Washington Saturday night and a day later signed with Cleveland, reportedly a three-year contract for $10.3 million.

The Redskins are expected to continue searching for other possibilities for a line that was embattled and oft-injured a season ago. The team, though, has mostly avoided the big fish available in this year's free agency market. In fact, Parker and Foote would likely qualify as the biggest names to visit the team in these opening days of free agency.

Parker, 29, is a two-time Pro Bowler who has topped 1,000 rushing yards three times in his career, though not since 2007. He lost his starting job last season to Rashard Mendenhall.

Foote, meanwhile, could be a big part of the Redskins' anticipated transition to a defense that relies heavily on a 3-4 alignment.

Though he played last year in Detroit in the Lions' 4-3 defense, Foote played his first seven seasons in Pittsburgh's 3-4. With the Steelers, Foote played under Redskins linebackers coach Lou Spanos, a longtime Pittsburgh assistant.

If Foote gets out of Washington without a contract, he's expected to visit the Arizona Cardinals, who tried to sign Foote a year ago and need to find a replacement for Karlos Dansby, who signed Saturday with the Miami Dolphins.

Another challenge of switching to the 3-4 is finding the perfect nose tackle. The Redskins have scheduled a Tuesday visit with tackle Maake Kemoeatu, who was released last week by Carolina.

The 6-foot-5, 345-pound Kemoeatu had been a big force in the middle for the Panthers, but he missed all of last season after tearing his Achilles' tendon in training camp. His recovery hasn't gone smoothly -- the initial surgery went well but he later needed a second procedure -- and nearly eight months after the tear, Kemoeatu's not expected to be in football shape until training camp.

The Redskins are moving slowly as they build the roster, but the team is hoping Hicks was an important first step.

The Redskins need a left tackle and more depth at right tackle, and while Hicks, 31, could find time at each position, his best shot at playing time could be right guard. The team parted ways with veteran Randy Thomas last week, which created a vacancy there. Mike Williams, whom the team re-signed last week, is expected to provide the main competition for Hicks.

"If I get a chance to compete for that, I'll do my best to try to hold that spot," Hicks said. "But whatever my role is, man, I'll definitely accept it with open arms and try to make the most out of it, whatever it might be.

"You get a chance to come in and compete for a spot on a team that has a rich football tradition like the Redskins, that's always exciting. They've got a great coaching staff that they've just put together, so the pieces are starting to fall into place now."

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