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Redskins fall in line with sensibility by choosing Trent Williams in 2010 NFL draft

By Thomas Boswell
Friday, April 23, 2010; D01

The Redskins didn't trade Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Jason Campbell and all their draft picks in 2019 for Sam Bradford.

The team that, for a decade, has lived to make headlines, even if it didn't always win games, did not trade up, trade down or stand on its head with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft, either.

Instead, at last, the Redskins acted like a well-run pro franchise, not a fantasy-league team operated by an impulsive marketing-driven owner and a general manager sidekick always eager to read the boss's preferences.

As 99 percent of the Washington metro area exhaled, the Redskins filled their most desperate need -- left tackle -- with 315-pound Trent "Silverback" Williams of Oklahoma, an exceptional physical talent who is remarkably graceful for an offensive lineman and capable of a 4.8-second 40-yard dash.

In doing so, they bypassed Russell Okung of Oklahoma State, who could lift more weight and had better college work habits and, perhaps, superior technique. But a tackle such as Williams, who looks agile enough to play tight end if there were a higher league than the NFL, screamed "more potential." So, the Redskins gambled on that promise.

"There are not many athletes who are 315 pounds and run a 4.8 40-yard [dash]," said Coach Mike Shanahan, addressing the media alone at a Redskins lectern that has, at times, been overcrowded at drafts. "A very agile offensive tackle is something we look for and is hard to find unless you have a first-round pick. You're looking for speed and quickness in a zone blocking scheme. Now we get to see if Trent can do it."

If not at left tackle, Williams also has played right tackle and center and, according to Shanahan, could be a guard, too. Why care about that? Because in the last 30 years, more than half of all linemen taken in the top five picks in the draft have never made even one Pro Bowl -- those NFL all-star games that more than 100 players make every year. So Williams's versatility increases the chances he will be a great player somewhere, though left tackle is certainly where the Redskins pray he ends up.

"Trent is penciled in at left tackle" in the beginning, said Shanahan, who hopes that he will develop "as fast as a rookie as Ryan Clady did in Denver."

What a relief. The first day of the NFL draft has passed and the Redskins have retained not only their sanity but continued a logical, sensible offseason that reinforces the impression that Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen have begun an era of responsible stewardship of the Redskins.

Will there be desperate dealings so the Redskins can trade somebody, anybody, to get a second- or third-round pick Friday? Or will they be forced to sit on their hands for a whole draft day?

"We got our second-round pick. It's Donovan McNabb," said Shanahan, with his ambiguous half-smile. "We're not going to give up the farm to get a second-round draft pick."

So, if you dreamed of getting Haynesworth, with only $9 million over three years left guaranteed on his contract, away from the Redskins, you may have already missed your shot. Looks like a first-round pick may have been the theoretical asking price.

How orderly. It's almost disorienting. Like writing about a team with a future. What a far cry from just two years ago when rookie coach Jim Zorn came out of the Redskins' "war room" looking like he'd just seen a ghost -- or perhaps the true shape of his future. Owner Daniel Snyder and ex-GM Vinny Cerrato crowed about how they'd used their three highest picks in the draft for three receivers -- almost a triplicate pick.

Why? Well, those were the three highest-ranked names on their board. And, gee, they'd worked so hard to make that board. They made it sound like they were really, really proud of their sixth-grade science project. Was Zorn just sent out for coffee when the Redskins were on the clock?

Now, we've got the Shanahan-and-Allen show, one of them a potential Hall of Fame coach, the other an established GM who is the son of a Hall of Fame coach and Redskins legend. In their hands, this draft was about a simple but classic NFL problem. Just make a choice between potential and polish at your position of greatest need. No $100 million signings of out-of-shape tackles.

The Redskins, and their fans, are fortunate that, after a sad and comic 4-12 season, Snyder appears to have evaluated his first 10 years as owner and decided to change his style.

"The question will be, if the Redskins improve for a few years, will Dan go back to the way he was before?" said the top executive of another NFL franchise.

An excess of sudden success is unlikely. It's fortunate the Redskins are running their offseason so well because '10 may be a killer season. The schedule is so brutal, with seven games against teams that had 11 to 14 wins in '09, that even significant improvement is unlikely to produce a .500 record.

Until I studied the history of NFL teams that face schedules dominated by foes who had far, far better records the previous year, I thought the Redskins, with McNabb at quarterback, as well as improved discipline and several useful offseason additions, had a perfectly reasonable shot at 8-8. And conceivably better.

A few hours with the history books has sobered me up.

It's likely that the Redskins are entering a period when patience and sound method will be essential. That's why Thursday was encouraging. After weeks of wild, but entertaining speculation that the Redskins might be the draft day "wild card," they simply did the boring but proper thing and made a tough decision between two fine offensive tackles.

Williams is often cited as needing to add strength to handle NFL pass rushers, especially since his 34 bench-press repetitions with 225 pounds is several fewer than Okung, who isn't as sleek or athletic as the Silverback, but is more likely to pancake you.

"I'm working hard to get my technique as sound as possible," said Williams. "That will be my biggest challenge."

Perhaps an equal challenge will be overcoming the instant reputation that a No. 4 overall pick receives. The commissioner of the NFL just introduced Williams as "Trent (Silverback) Williams." The source of the nickname?

"The silverback [gorilla] is one of the strongest beasts," said Williams.

Just one final note of realism, please. From '80 through '04, a 25-year period, 29 linemen were taken in the top four picks in the draft. More than half -- 55 percent -- never made one Pro Bowl. The picks since '04 don't look any better, but it's too soon to judge them. You can be sure that almost all of them had a nickname that connoted monstrous size and strength.

But more than half of them didn't justify such an astronomical pick. Williams probably has the ability. His college coach, Bob Stoops, has assured his friend Shanahan that Williams is "one of the best workers I've had." But others have expressed doubts.

And the one question Shanahan asked Williams, while the Redskins were on the clock, was, "Are you committed to being great?"

"I said, '100 percent,' " said Williams.

Silverback or not, nothing less will suffice.

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