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Just when it looked impossible, Redskins patch together solid line

Jason Campbell, sacked 20 times in a five-game stretch, has been sacked only five times in four games since.
Jason Campbell, sacked 20 times in a five-game stretch, has been sacked only five times in four games since. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009

There was a time not long ago when Jason Campbell would take a snap from center, and his eyes would fall right to the inevitable, oncoming rush. During a five-week stretch in October and November, the Washington Redskins quarterback was sacked 20 times, and hit too many more to remember. And his offensive linemen kept falling, first veteran guard Randy Thomas, then Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels. And when the replacements for the regulars started getting injured, too -- guard Chad Rinehart went out for the season three weeks ago -- there seemed to be no hope the Redskins could hold together offensively.

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What happened, though, has been somewhat stunning. The Redskins are using one player that was out of football when the season started, another who was out of football for the previous three seasons altogether, and another who has flip-flopped from one side to the other and back again. And, somehow, they've improved.

"I'm probably a little surprised just how fast they came along working together in practice," Campbell said Wednesday. "I know it's a little bit of a rough start at the beginning because you're trying to get a lot of guys that haven't played in a while on the same page and things like that.

"Communication in the offensive line and being physical takes time because you got to get used to each other. I feel like over the last couple of weeks they got used to our schemes, used to their blocking assignments -- and also, they know what they're doing. They're not guessing and not thinking too much."

The tallies read like this: In 13 games, the Redskins have started seven different offensive lines. Eleven offensive linemen -- more than two units' worth -- have played at some point. The Redskins have employed, on the practice squad and active roster, 14 offensive linemen. And two of the best -- Thomas and Samuels -- were lost for the season in Week 2 and Week 5, respectively.

Now, the left tackle is Levi Jones, who was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals in the offseason and was out of work until the Redskins signed him Oct. 20. He was starting in his third week on the job. "That was kind of a spot that we weren't really sure about until he showed up," center Casey Rabach said.

The right guard is Mike Williams, who hadn't played in a regular season game since 2005, lost more than 100 pounds to make a return to football, and was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2002 season -- as a tackle. "Mike did an okay job at tackle," Rabach said, "but he's a way better guard. He can just use his size and all that stuff just to be a mauler in there."

Not that Williams wanted to be there.

"Here's the thing: I thought I was a good tackle," Williams said. "I mean, I was an all-American and a [high] draft choice and all of that. Why take a good tackle and move him? . . . Don't get me wrong, moving to guard, it's an adjustment. But our size helps. We take up a lot of space. A 350-pound guard is a big guard.

"And being that I played tackle for a lot of my career, my footwork is slightly different. I'm used to having quick feet for guys coming off the edge and changing directions. I'm used to facing those exceptional athletes."

The right tackle is Stephon Heyer, the third-year player from Maryland who began the season right where he's playing now, took Samuels's spot when the veteran went down with a neck injury, and then moved back to right tackle when Jones emerged.

How tough is it to deal with all those moving parts?

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