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Jansen Bumped To Second String

Heyer Will Start Against the Giants

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 1, 2008; Page E01

Right tackle Jon Jansen, the longest serving player in the Washington Redskins' organization and a starter since being drafted in 1999, was demoted to second string yesterday, and Stephon Heyer will take his spot in the season opener Thursday against the New York Giants.

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Jansen, 32, missed almost all of last season with a broken leg and has struggled in pass protection this summer.

Heyer, a second-year lineman from Maryland, rose from being an undrafted free agent to spot starter in Jansen's absence in 2007. Heyer missed much of this training camp with a knee sprain, but Coach Jim Zorn and his staff liked what they saw in the two preseason games in which he played and made the change ahead of yesterday's practice, the first of the week.

Jansen practiced with the reserves -- taking many reps at the guard spot for the first time -- and, although he disagreed with the move, said he will do whatever he can to help his team.

"I'm disappointed that I'm not going to be out there," Jansen said. "I still believe myself to be the right tackle here, but it's not going to be that way on [Thursday], and that's what I have to deal with."

Jansen missed the final preseason game with a mild foot sprain but practiced fully and said he is "healthy and ready to go when needed."

He was given a new contract, including $10 million in guarantees, after the 2006 season, when some scouts and executives believed he was slipping in his lateral movement and pass protection skills, and he has started just one game since. His 2007 season ended when he broke his leg in the first game.

Jansen was given some explanations for the change, but "nothing that I felt was reason enough," he said. Zorn said the decision to go with Heyer was very difficult, citing the ability to best protect the passer as a key factor.

"We wanted to give Stephon an opportunity," Zorn said. "He really showed in his pass protection that he can really anchor, and that's kind of how we're going to go right now."

Heyer played in 12 games last season as an undrafted rookie, with five starts. He was raw but withstood several challenges, continuing to work on his leverage and on keeping his backside down in protection. Heyer first got a chance to work with the starters when Pro Bowl left guard Chris Samuels required knee surgery early in 2007 training camp, and his rapid rise was one of the more surprising developments a year ago.

"I've been thrown in this spot before and whatever they chose to do I'm ready to board," Heyer said. Heyer said the coaches did not put a time frame on his status, other than telling him he is now the starter. Heyer has continued to impress coaches, showing up for camp in much better condition than a year ago and improving his upper-body strength.

"I think all the training I did in the offseason has helped me be in a position where I can become a useful member of the team," Heyer said. "In the course of camp, I had my ups and downs, and the injury set me back a little bit, but I think I turned it around and I'm ready to go."

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