The training-camp tinkering that could end up being a major overhaul of the Washington Redskins' offensive line continued today. Coaches had veteran Keith Sims line up as the starting left guard in place of Brad Badger for part of this afternoon's practice, and pledged that veteran Andy Heck soon will get a look with the starters at left tackle.
With rookie Jon Jansen already entrenched as the starting right tackle and Tre Johnson moving from left guard to right guard, the Redskins could enter the upcoming season with only one offensive lineman--center Cory Raymer--starting at the same position as he did last year. They could have as many as three new faces in their starting offensive line, if Jansen suffers no major setbacks and Sims and Heck win jobs.
Holdovers such as Shar Pourdanesh and Joe Patton are fighting not only for starting jobs, but for roster spots. The Redskins, after yielding a franchise-record 61 sacks last season, made upgrading their offensive line a top offseason priority. And the club's decision-makers seem convinced that they at least have more depth and possibilities than they did a year ago.
"We're a little bit deeper," offensive line coach Russ Grimm said today. "We've got some competition for some spots. That's what training camp is for."
Grimm said he'd like to have a starting offensive line in place around the time the Redskins play their second preseason game on Aug. 20 at home against the Buffalo Bills. Coach Norv Turner offered a similar timetable.
"We're a ways away," Turner said. "I'm not sure we'll get there until we've played a few preseason games. . . . We'll figure it out as soon as possible--as soon as we can sort it out.
"We do have some guys who have played. If you're not making drastic changes, I think you can move guys in and out. Last year we were moving guards to tackle and tackles to guard, so that makes it tough. I don't think we're going to have to do that this year."
Near the end of today's second practice of the day, the Redskins had Sims at left guard on a line with Patton at left tackle, Raymer at center, Johnson at right guard and Jansen at right tackle. Previously, Badger had gotten the work with the starting unit at left guard.
The Sims-Badger competition appears to be about even. The Redskins had high hopes for Badger at the outset of last season, when they shifted him to left tackle. But that experiment was abandoned during the season, with Badger being moved back to guard. Now Sims, a former Pro Bowl guard with the Miami Dolphins, is threatening to move Badger out of the starting lineup altogether.
Team officials said it's not that Badger has slipped. Sims, they say, had a superb offseason after being signed late last season when the Redskins' list of injuries was growing more cumbersome by the week. He's 32 and entering his 10th NFL season. He's four years removed from his third consecutive Pro Bowl season with Miami, but the Redskins hope he's experiencing a career revival.
"The way it was explained to me, there are no secure jobs," Sims said today. "The best five guys will start. When they re-signed me during the offseason, they told me, 'If you show you want to play again, there will be an opportunity for you.' All you can ask for is an opportunity, and so far I feel like I've done everything they've asked of me. I feel like I got stronger during the offseason. My weight is down, and my mental outlook is good."
The Redskins made a major offseason push to sign a starting left tackle via free agency. They missed on Orlando Brown and Harry Swayne. But team officials did some of their best work late in the offseason, when they got Heck, fullback Larry Centers and defensive end Marco Coleman for bargain-basement prices.
The Chicago Bears believed Heck's best days were behind him, and signed free agent Blake Brockermeyer to replace him. Heck is 32 and entering his 11th NFL season. He concedes he's not the player he was five years ago. But he says he feels healthy and believes he still is a capable starting left tackle.
The Redskins seem to agree with him. Pourdanesh lined up at left tackle for most of last week's practices, but Saturday and today he played right tackle. He got his work with the second- and third-team lines this afternoon. Heck was the second-team left tackle while Patton lined up with the starters, but Turner and Grimm said that Heck will get some work with the first unit soon. Some team officials say that Heck already has demonstrated he's the best left tackle, and he likely will emerge from training camp with the starting job protecting the blind side of quarterback Brad Johnson.
Heck, a graduate of W.T. Woodson High, said today: "When I signed, I never saw it as my job. I saw it as an open competition. That's how I see it now, as an open competition between Joe Patton and myself. He's a fine player. I think what they're looking for is consistency. I've been a starter in this league and I won't accept anything less from myself. If it turns out that Joe is the better tackle and he's more consistent and he's the guy, then I'll play my role. But right now I'm working as hard as I can to be the starter."
Holdovers such as Patton, Pourdanesh and guard Rod Milstead could end up fighting for the last few of the 10 roster spots for offensive linemen. But they're not conceding anything at this point.
"I always think of myself as a starter," Patton said. "Whether I'm playing or not, that's the mentality I have. All I know is, I'm competing for the job at left tackle. It's Andy and me and Shar. You can't try to read the coaches. You just try to do what they ask you to do."