With Trent Williams, Redskins plug hole on offensive line

Scenes from Redskins Park, where washington introduced its top selection, Trent Williams, and from New York's Radio City Music Hall, site of the NFL draft.
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 23, 2010

In an interview last week, former Oklahoma tackle Trent Williams said he would not be surprised if the Washington Redskins selected him with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft.

"And the type of player I am, I'll come in, work hard and help," he said then. "I can help right away. I know that."

That's good for the Redskins, because they've needed help at the position for some time. On Thursday night, Washington finally moved to address its problems at tackle in selecting the athletic Williams, who some talent evaluators believe has the most upside of any offensive lineman in the draft.

The move made sense for an organization that earlier this month traded two picks -- including its second-rounder in this three-day process -- for six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb, whom the Redskins presumably would prefer to protect as well as possible. The Redskins have not been effective in that aspect of the game the past two seasons, so choosing a tackle should have been the No. 1 draft priority for Coach Mike Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen.

"It's going to be an honor" to help protect McNabb, Williams said Thursday night in a conference call with reporters. "Great quarterback; looked up to Donovan as long as I can remember. I love his fierce competitiveness in the game and it's a dream come true."

Unfazed about Williams's lack of time at left tackle (he played on the right side for the Sooners until last season) and the concerns some teams have privately expressed about his work ethic, the Redskins went with the player they have long targeted to begin a long-overdue line overhaul. After a day in which the buzz around the league about the Redskins centered on their potential selection of safety Eric Berry (he went No. 5 overall to the Kansas City Chiefs) and the possibility of trades, logic prevailed.

"They were looking at all different possibilities, trades and all that sort of thing," Williams's co-representative, Eugene Parker, said in a phone interview shortly after the Redskins made their first pick. "Staying there [at fourth overall], at the end of the day, they felt Trent was their guy. They kind of led Trent to believe that."

To say the least, many Redskins fans were eager for the team to take a tackle. Before picking Williams, the Redskins had selected just four offensive linemen in the top four rounds of the draft since 2000. And of the small group, only former Pro Bowler Chris Samuels (a third overall pick) had become a star.

Samuels retired in March after missing most of the 2009 season because of a severe neck injury, and his absence opened another major hole on the Redskins' weakest unit since the middle of the 2008 season. Samuels represented the Redskins during the first round of the draft at Radio City Music Hall, and he's expected to mentor Williams, who possesses the type of physical tools and athleticism that "should give him a chance to step in and play and help you right away," a veteran AFC offensive line coach said recently. "He's got the footwork, he can move and do the things [Shanahan] likes to do [with his offensive line], but his frame is the thing. He's going to have to get stronger."

At the combine in February, Williams was measured at 6 feet 5, 315 pounds. He was officially timed at 4.88 seconds in the 40-yard dash. "A lot of young guys come in an need to work on something, but you'd rather have guys who have [the athletic ability] to do some things," the AFC line coach said. "The strength will come."

Williams displayed his versatility while starting at center and playing well during the Sooners' 31-27 victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl. Combined with his move to left tackle after spending his first three seasons on the right side, Williams showed his ability to adapt quickly and succeed in college.

Of course, the NFL is not the Big 12 Conference. Williams will battle much more talented edge rushers than he's used to facing, and some of Williams's detractors wonder whether he will he increase his efforts to meet the challenge. Shanahan and Allen did their due diligence in researching Williams's background, with Shanahan reaching out to his friend, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops, for reassurance.

"Bob Stoops guaranteed me, he said, 'Mike, one of the best workers I've had and he will . . . you'll be very proud of him,' " Shanahan said. "I know Bob very well, I've known him through the years. I can go through a number of different situations, but I don't think I need to go there. Obviously, if we didn't feel very strongly about him we wouldn't have picked him with our fourth pick in the draft."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company