Redskins Lay a Lot On the Line
Age, Health Are Concerns for Unit
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Nine offensive linemen -- from perennial Pro Bowl picks to journeymen to undrafted rookies -- started games for the Washington Redskins last season. Injuries and bad luck conspired to leave the team scrambling for bodies at times, and Washington never had the same group of starters for more than four games in a row. The Redskins used six unique combinations over 16 regular season games.
By Week 3, two stalwarts -- right tackle Jon Jansen and right guard Randy Thomas -- were lost to significant injuries, an increasingly common occurrence for both players, and the cycle of maladies began. The left side stayed intact -- tackle Chris Samuels and guard Pete Kendall started every game -- but everything else was in flux.
The Redskins enter this season with questions of age and health looming over the unit. All of this season's projected starters are 30 or older, and all are coming off of some medical procedure, save for center Casey Rabach, 30.
"As we get close to the preseason, and start putting the game [plans] together, we will discuss . . . very specifically not only when, but how many plays" the starting line takes part in, Coach Jim Zorn said. "All those things will be discussed, and who fits with who. With an 80-man roster [the NFL's new mandatory limit for training camp], it makes it much more difficult for us as coaches to find that right combination, and even older veterans have to play a little bit longer this preseason than seasons past."
The first real test for the veteran linemen comes this morning, as they check for aches and pains following yesterday's physical training camp sessions, the first full-contact, full-pad practices of the summer.
Samuels, 30, whose surgically repaired elbow has been stiff and sore lately, did not participate but is expected to be back next week, offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. Kendall, 35, has arthritic knees and is always monitored closely, while Jansen, 32, is back after breaking his leg in Week 1 of last season. Thomas, 32, is coming back from a torn left triceps.
"Sometimes you've just got to accept what you've got, and I'm not 23 no more," Thomas said. "I've got a different approach to practice now. I'm just glad to be out there, and I'm appreciative of my teammates supporting me and accepting me.
"We've got 40 days before we open up against the Giants, and preparing for that is just day-to-day. This is one of those years where, hey, we're all getting older, and we need something to show for it"
A year ago, the Redskins were forced to turn to reserve guard Jason Fabini (13 starts), tackle Todd Wade (10 starts) and rookie free agent tackle Stephon Heyer (five starts). All are back as valuable depth players. Joining that group is third-round pick Chad Rinehart, who is working as a left guard and left tackle.
The Redskins lack a proven backup center, and Bugel, who had one of the finest years of his storied career a year ago, said Kendall would move there from left guard if Rabach were injured.
"I don't know if I'm really comfortable with the backup center situation yet," Zorn said. The team also is trying to develop Justin Geisinger as a center.
None of those role players possesses the strength and athleticism of the starters, however, who when healthy can thrive in run blocking and pass protection. They can handle zone blocking and straight-ahead assignments as well.