Washington's offensive line holds up despite constant change

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2010; 12:27 AM

When the season began, the Washington Redskins rolled out Trent Williams at left tackle, Derrick Dockery at left guard, Artis Hicks at right guard and Jammal Brown at right tackle, on an offensive line that had undergone a significant offseason overhaul in the hope of improving its performance.

But when the Redskins' offense took the field late Sunday afternoon - in an overtime game, the result in the balance - Williams and Brown were on the sideline, each with an injury. Dockery hadn't even donned pads for the game, a healthy scratch. Hicks was lining up at tackle for the first time since June. And Kory Lichtensteiger - signed as a center to back up starter Casey Rabach - dug in at left guard.

"I think we're getting pretty used to playing with any combination of guys," Lichtensteiger said.

Even after the Redskins pulled out a 16-13 overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers, the only constant for the offensive line is instability. The group is constantly in flux, and at times Sunday - facing a Green Bay defense that led the league in sacks and rang up five more against the Redskins - it looked completely overwhelmed. Only Lichtensteiger played every snap at the same position, and the other six linemen in uniform all played.

But in the end, whatever taped-together combination the Redskins threw out there held up enough to rack up 373 yards - and win.

"It doesn't help, but it's our job to fight through that," Lichtensteiger said of the personnel changes. "We get paid to work with any combination of guys we have to play with."

It got to the point where the skill position players would arrive in the huddle and look up, wondering which faces they would see.

"You don't expect that," tight end Chris Cooley said. "Obviously, you never hope for it. But it's the NFL. I think every team has to come up with adjustments because of injuries every week."

The Redskins face more adjustments in the days ahead. Williams, the first-round pick who returned to the lineup after sitting out two weeks with knee and toe injuries, was supposed to reestablish himself as the anchor Sunday. He had his moments, flattening one Packers defender on a 48-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to Anthony Armstrong that sparked a Redskins' comeback.

But when Washington ran one final play in regulation with one second remaining - an ill-fated bomb from McNabb that was picked off by Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams - Trent Williams said his "whole season flashed before you." As he pursued a tackle on the return, Williams's knee buckled beneath him.

"My knee's still kind of weak from last time I injured it, and it just kind of gave out on me," Williams said. "It was a lot of pain, but I was more scared than anything."

As it turned out, Williams reentered the lineup for Washington's first possession of overtime. He said he will likely have an MRI exam, but he did not tear his anterior cruciate ligament.

Brown, though, was dealing with his own issues. At the end of the first half, two players rolled up on his left leg. It stiffened at halftime. "I couldn't put any pressure on it," he said.

Stephon Heyer stepped in to play right tackle. That move isn't strange for the Redskins. When the season began, Heyer would sub in every third series for Brown, who was coming off a hip injury, and Lichtensteiger would do the same for Dockery, who, as it turns out, was in the process of losing his job. But isn't such a turnstile approach bad for the line's cohesion?

"That's been the talk ever since the beginning of the season, when we started with the rotation: Is that the problem?" Rabach said. "It really isn't, because every week in practice we're rotating guys in and out of there."

Sunday, when Rabach got the wind knocked out of him, backup Will Montgomery played center for a snap. When Hicks later lost his shoe, Montgomery stepped in at right guard.

"Each play," Montgomery said, "I just see if everybody's getting up."

By the Redskins' second possession of overtime, only five linemen were still standing. Neither Brown nor Williams - neither of whom suspects his injury is serious - could go, so Heyer played left tackle, Hicks moved to right tackle, and Montgomery played right guard. Hicks's last stint at tackle: Organized team activities in June.

"I was messing with [Brown], saying I'm a tackle by nature but I'm a guard by trade," Hicks said. "When they told me I had to go out to tackle, I was like, 'Okay'."

As a Redskins offensive lineman, who can be asked to do any job at any time, that is the only appropriate answer.

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