For Redskins, Summer Stumbling Blocks
For a Struggling Unit, It's All on the Line
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The Washington Redskins' morning practice had finished more than 20 minutes earlier. Most of the players were in the locker room, and fans were heading to their cars. The only man remaining on the field was propped atop a riding lawn mower.
Not far away in the searing heat, veteran coach Joe Bugel, as he sometimes does, sat alone on a chair between the practice fields, legs outstretched and eyes cast toward the sky where jets were landing at nearby Dulles International Airport. On Tuesday morning, for the offensive line coach, there was a lot to ponder.
Not even one week into training camp, Bugel's linemen are struggling on the field and grappling with minor injuries off it. The line's injury report is already in midseason form.
Tackle Stephon Heyer suffered a bruised left knee during practice Tuesday morning. The team indicated that results looked encouraging, although it's unclear when Heyer will return.
Also, Randy Thomas had a light practice because of an ailing knee, Mike Williams injured his groin, Casey Rabach had calf pain and Rueben Riley sprained his ankle.
So yes, watching some airplanes land might have been the highlight of practice.
The early days of camp have not been kind to the offensive line. For example, coaches and team executives have been raving about the performance of rookie defensive end-linebacker Brian Orakpo. But several times, his successes have come at the expense of six-time Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels.
From individual matchup drills to 11-on-11 team drills, the linemen have been noticeably overmatched by their defensive counterparts, and through 10 practices, they've struggled to find a rhythm.
"It's a work in progress," guard Derrick Dockery said. "You just don't come together overnight."
The question fans at training camp have been asking: Does the mismatch between the units reflect more on the offensive or defensive lines? The most likely answer, at least for now: a bit of both.
"I don't expect them to come out here and look like the number one offense against us," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "Who does?"
Daniels said that in the early days of camp the defense's advantage is all about timing. Put simply, the offense has to worry about it; the defense doesn't.