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Offensive line faces questions, injuries and uncertainty as Washington Redskins prepare for St. Louis

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 11:49 PM

As Trent Williams walked toward the locker room, the weight on his giant frame shifted unevenly from side to side as he favored a sore left knee. The rookie left tackle wasn't in a talking mood.

"Nah, not today," Williams said, swatting away questions with a just a couple of words.

But the questions don't go away. For the Redskins' offensive line, there are suddenly more heading into the third game of the season than they've faced since early in the offseason.

Williams's status for Sunday's game at the St. Louis Rams is up in the air. He suffered a knee contusion and sprained a toe in last Sunday's loss to the Houston Texans and was not able to participate in practice Wednesday.

"We'll evaluate him every day," Coach Mike Shanahan said. "Hopefully, he'll be ready to go."

If Williams isn't, it seems increasingly likely that Stephon Heyer - not Jammal Brown - would replace him at left tackle. Shanahan would offer no clues Wednesday, but Brown, who appeared in two Pro Bowls as a left tackle, said he hasn't taken any reps on the left side since joining the Redskins in June.

"Trent's a good player, but Stephon is over there, too," Brown said.

With a rushing attack ranked last in the NFL, regardless of Williams's status on Sunday, there are question marks at two other positions on the line as well.

At left guard, coaches have been alternating Derrick Dockery and Kory Lichtensteiger. Two games into the season, it doesn't appear they have settled on one over the other.

"It's been very close and a very tight race," Shanahan said Wednesday. "We want to give both guys a chance to win that position."

The players said they haven't been told who will start Sunday at St. Louis. Both said they are surprised that Lichtensteiger has seen so much playing time. There are some at Redskins Park who believe Dockery is a bad fit for Shanahan's zone blocking scheme, which is why Lichtensteiger, who didn't play a single down of football in 2009, has been given so much game time.

"What are you going to do about it? You going to cry about it?" said Dockery, who has started 111 straight NFL games. "Pout about it? . . . Kory deserves a shot. I thought he played a really good preseason, had a really good offseason. Coach said he wanted to give him a shot."

"You just want to do what's best for the team," Dockery continued. "If that's what Coach thinks is best for the team, you have to go with it."

Lichtensteiger said he didn't know he'd factor so heavily into the Redskins' plans until one day before the season opener against Dallas. He felt he improved a week later against the Texans. But the entire unit is facing the same problem: A different group has been taking the field on every offensive possession and there's no end in sight to the personnel shuffling.

"We're kind of missing out on maybe a little of that cohesion you get with the same group the whole game," said Lichtensteiger. "But I think we make up for it with effort and how we're playing so far."

That effort hasn't translated to the running game so far. The Redskins have the benefit of facing the league's 30th-ranked rush defense in the Rams, who are allowing an average of 142.5 rushing yards per game. But the Redskins' ground game is ranked last, averaging only 53.5 yards through the first two games.

Right guard Artis Hicks said there isn't one single problem with the rushing attack.

"It takes all 11," he said. "It takes everything from us five up front, blocking our guys, the running back hitting his mark, quarterback carrying out a fake, receiver taking care of his man. This run game is serious when it's on, but it takes so much - it takes everyone pulling their weight to get it going."

Hicks and center Casey Rabach appear to have their respective positions nailed down, but there are concerns about the right tackle spot. Coaches were rotating Heyer in to replace Brown during the first two games. But if Heyer moves to left tackle to replace Williams, Brown might have to play four full quarters for the first time since 2008, whether he's ready or not. "He might not have a choice," Shanahan said.

Brown has not yet regained his Pro Bowl form after sitting out the entire 2009 season with injuries, and he concedes he's still adjusting to the right side of the line. Asked if the position is starting to feel natural, Brown said, "Not really. But we're still working on it."

Perhaps the bigger obstacle is the team's scheme. The Redskins are Brown's second NFL team and he is being asked to perform different duties than he had with the New Orleans Saints.

"It's a lot different. The zone scheme does different things," Brown said. "As offensive linemen, you have to know a lot more. Down there with Drew Brees, it was a lot different. A lot of stuff was on his shoulders. But here, we got to know a lot of things as an offensive line."

While the team's passing game improved from Week 1 to Week 2, the linemen are confident the team's running game - and their role in the running game - will be better in Week 3.

"It's just a work in progress," Rabach said.

Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.

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