By drafting Williams, Redskins answer the line

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 23, 2010; D01

NEW YORK -- As he moved through the line of cameramen and notebook-toting inquisitors as if they were undersized defensive linemen, the creases on Trent Williams's face never disappeared.

"I haven't stopped smiling yet. I think my face might be stuck," said Williams.

The smiles stretched from Radio City Music Hall, site of the 2010 NFL draft, to Redskins Park, as Washington Coach Mike Shanahan made Williams, the versatile and athletic left tackle from the University of Oklahoma, his first-round selection.

Williams, the draft's fourth overall choice, instantly becomes an important cornerstone of the Redskins' revamped offense, charged with protecting the blindside of recently acquired quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"I've been watching him my whole life. It still doesn't feel real right now," said Williams, wearing a new Redskins cap. "I guess in training camp, I'll snap out of it."

The selection of Williams was the culmination of a busy day that featured plenty of chatter and rumors involving the Redskins, whose names were attached to several top picks, including quarterback Sam Bradford, safety Eric Berry and tackle Russell Okung, rated by many analysts as the draft's top offensive linemen.

But Shanahan opted for Williams because he feels the 6-foot-5, 315-pound former Sooner will be a better fit for the Redskins' blocking scheme. He first checked with Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops for a vote of confidence.

"I wanted to get a little reinforcement from him, he's been around a lot of good football players throughout his career," Shanahan said. "And there's not many athletes that are 315 pounds that can run that 4.8 range and show the type of athleticism that we look for. And we do run that zone-blocking scheme, a very agile offensive tackle is something we look for. Sometimes it's hard to find unless you do pick in the first round or early in the first round, and we think we found the guy that can really help us."

Many expected the Redskins to be active on the draft's first day, entertaining trade offers for players such as Jason Campbell and Albert Haynesworth, while also trying to move to a better draft position. The Redskins had discussions about moving down in the draft, but in the end, utilized their No. 4 pick.

"Very seldom when you're in the top five do people really pull the trigger," Shanahan said. "I think a lot has to do with the salary at that position, I think a lot has to do with what they have to give up and at the end of the day you have to feel comfortable with who you do pick and we feel, we felt fortunate that he was there especially with the needs of our football team."

The Redskins currently hold three more picks in this year's draft, but none in the second or third rounds, scheduled for Friday evening. They could still move Campbell in exchange for a late-round pick, and they haven't found a suitable trade partner for Haynesworth. Tennessee's Jeff Fisher told Tennessee reporters Thursday night the "door is shut" on any possibility of re-acquiring Haynesworth.

While the Redskins could try to beef up their defensive line later in the draft, the selection of Williams addresses the team's biggest need. Williams instantly becomes an anchor for an offensive line that was among the league's most embattled last year and figured to be even worse after left tackle Chris Samuels's retirement last month.

"He's a very, very talented player. McNabb has nothing to worry about," said Gerald McCoy, Williams's Oklahoma teammate who was the draft's third overall pick, selected by Tampa Bay. "Trent's going to be one of the most dominant left tackles in the league. I promise you that."

Last season was Williams's only one at left tackle, but he says he feels more comfortable lining up on that side. As a senior, he participated in 519 pass plays, allowed just two quarterback pressures and an assisted sack. He was penalized just five times in 808 offensive snaps.

"They're getting a great offensive tackle," Bradford, Williams's former quarterback, said of the Redskins. "I think he might be one of the most athletic big guys I've ever seen. It's extremely impressive to watch him play. I always knew if Trent was on my right or if he was on my left that I was protected on that side. So I think he'll be a fantastic football player."

Williams's family was on hand Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, cheering on their son. Freddie and Veronica Williams have seen Williams protecting quarterbacks for years, from Pop Warner fields in East Texas, to Long View High, where Williams played alongside fellow Redskins Malcolm Kelly and Robert Henson and then to Oklahoma.

"I told him, I hope the Cowboys could somehow trade up to get him, growing up a Cowboys fan," his father, Freddie Williams, joked. "But once Washington traded for Donovan and that opened things up for a left tackle and he had such a good visit, I think we were all kind of rooting for that."

Said Williams: "I didn't want to tip my hand earlier [when] everybody asked me where I wanted to be. I kept it to a generic answer. Honestly, I always wanted to be a Redskin."

Williams said he enjoyed his pre-draft visit to Washington more than others because he was already familiar with so many players. In addition to Kelly and Henson, Williams played college ball with safety Lendy Holmes.

"As a mother, I'm glad he's going where he has people who know him and can help guide him," said Veronica Williams. "I value Malcolm because he helped him in Oklahoma."

Williams is quick and versatile. He actually finished his college career lined up at center, snapping to Bradford during the the Sooners' 31-27 victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl. At the NFL Scouting Combine three months later, Williams posted sprint times that topped most other linemen. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.82 seconds. His arm measured 34 1/4 inches, and he benched 225 pounds 21 times.

"Trent Williams is a person that we had targeted that not only can play the left side but the right side as well, and he played the center position," said Shanahan. "In our zone-blocking scheme that we run -- obviously we run the power scheme as well -- but we thought he'd fit in very well. He's got a lot of experience, obviously being a four-year starter playing a number of different positions. Hopefully he'll come in here and compete right away and show us what he can do."

Thursday night's pick was delivered to Commissioner Roger Goodell by Samuels, who represented the team at Radio City Music Hall. Samuels was the last offensive lineman Washington selected in the first round.

Since 2000, the Redskins have selected just four offensive linemen in the top four rounds of the draft.

Samuels appeared in six Pro Bowls before retiring because of injury last month. He finished last season on the injured-reserve list and without him, the Redskins' offensive line struggled. Only two quarterbacks were sacked more than Campbell (43Ö). In 2008, only three quarterbacks were sacked more than Campbell (38Ö).

Selecting Williams means the Redskins are also protecting their other major offseason investment: McNabb. Washington gave up two high draft picks, including its 2010 second-rounderÖ, to acquire McNabb and are paying him more than $11.7 million in base salary and bonuses this season.

Staff writer Paul Tenorio contributed to this story.

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