Since the Washington Redskins' coaches installed Jon Jansen as starting right tackle early in training camp, they rarely have mentioned his name. That may be the best tribute he could get halfway through his first NFL preseason.
Jansen is a rookie on an offensive line that yielded a franchise-record 61 sacks last season. Yet when the Redskins list their worries about the upcoming season, Jansen's play isn't among them. The second-round draft pick from Michigan has established himself as a fixture on the line, and his coaches and teammates have few doubts that he'll be a steady, dependable player for the next decade or so.
Redskins offensive line coach Russ Grimm said yesterday that Jansen isn't a starter by necessity.
"He's a starter," Grimm said, "because he's good enough."
That always has been true of Jansen, who started all 50 games of his college career following a redshirt season and says he can't remember ever not starting a game, at any level, in which he played. Redskins officials were delighted when the 6-foot-6, 302-pound Jansen still was available in the second round of April's college draft, and they haven't been disappointed since. Jansen became a starter even before first-round draft choice Champ Bailey did.
"He's still got a lot of different looks to see and a lot of techniques to learn, but he's a little ahead of schedule," Grimm said. "I don't want to say he's a surprise, but he's probably a little ahead of where I thought he'd be."
Jansen calls his play in the Redskins' first two preseason games only "average," but indicated yesterday he's relatively pleased with his progress.
"At this point, I think I'm in a good situation because of some of the things I did in the offseason," he said. "I saw the opportunity to be able to come in and play, and I think some of the things that I've done have helped prepare myself to have the best opportunity possible."
Jansen slipped to the second round of the draft in part because many league personnel people didn't think he could play left tackle, the all-important spot from which the blind side of a right-handed quarterback is protected. The Redskins, however, needed help at both tackle spots.
According to Grimm, most young NFL offensive linemen struggle because they're not strong enough and because they have difficulty learning new blocking schemes and recognizing different defenses. But Jansen has made a quick weight-room adjustment to a training program similar to the one he followed at Michigan, and has been a quick study on the nuances of the NFL game.
"He's on the plus side of all those things," Grimm said.
Jansen spent the offseason doing drills to improve his footwork so he wouldn't struggle with quick pass rushers. Once he attended his first minicamp, he knew and the Redskins knew that he'd have few problems competing at this level.
"I saw the level of competition with these guys, and they're great athletes," Jansen said. "But I thought I could fit in with these guys and play at their level. . . . You always have those questions. You just have to come out and play. There are a lot of things that are always the same. The hitting is always the same. Even if you're not that good in your technique or not that good in a certain area, you can always fight. You can always be physical."
He has the toughness and durability to be a cornerstone of the Redskins' offensive line. He gritted his teeth and finished last season's Ohio State game after suffering a painful sprained ankle and strained Achilles' tendon early in the contest, and kept his consecutive games streak intact the following week.
"It's something I never really thought about until the very end of my college career," Jansen said. "I just went out and played every day, and I was fortunate not to be hurt bad enough not to be able to play."
Jansen didn't arrive at training camp expecting his college resume to guarantee him a starting job, and he says now he doesn't expect to be fully accepted by his teammates until he's been through the rigors of an NFL season.
"I don't know that I'll gain acceptance until I have a season under my belt and people can say, `He went through four preseason games, 16 regular season games and the postseason and was a good player all year,' " Jansen said. "You don't come in and have people say you started 50 games in college. Well, so what? A lot of guys have started a lot of games in college. I need to do that in the pros."
The Redskins already have traded their previous starter at right tackle, Shar Pourdanesh, to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Team officials are contemplating releasing another veteran tackle, Joe Patton, before the end of training camp. Jansen is one of three new starters on the offensive line. The other two, left tackle Andy Heck and left guard Keith Sims, have a combined 19 seasons of NFL experience.
Tre Johnson has been moved from left guard to right guard. Only center Cory Raymer will start at the same position as last season. The team's blockers will be scrutinized closely, for the health of new quarterback Brad Johnson could go a long way toward determining how successful the Redskins are.
"I want to go out and be the guy they're counting on to get the job done at that position," Jansen said. "The offensive line is feeling the responsibility to bring this team around and set the pace."