The Washington Redskins don't expect to seek another left tackle in the wake of veteran Joe Patton's release Monday and will rely on Kipp Vickers -- who last played a regular season NFL game in 1997 -- as the backup to starter Andy Heck.
If both Heck and Vickers are injured, offensive line coach Russ Grimm said the Redskins likely would move Jamie Brown, the backup right tackle, to the left side. But the team would resist switching guard Brad Badger back to his old job, Grimm added, and wouldn't even consider moving rookie Jon Jansen, who is solidly installed as the starting right tackle.
"Obviously we're not going to be in this situation if we weren't comfortable," said Coach Norv Turner, expressing faith in Vickers's ability as a backup. "If we're in a situation where he has to play, I'm confident he can go in and play well."
Patton, a fifth-year player, was cut after coaches chose Heck, a 10-year veteran, as their starter despite the widely held view that Patton performed better during training camp. But Patton ran afoul of team owner Daniel M. Snyder, who criticized him for a missed assignment that led to a sack of quarterback Brad Johnson in the preseason opener against New England.
Grimm said yesterday that the mistake was not why Patton was released. "We had other guys that busted assignments," Grimm said. "It's just a combination of a couple things that had been building for a couple years."
Asked if Patton had become difficult to coach, Grimm said: "No. No. Part of it was work habits. Part of it was his approach to the game. The guy can play in the league."
As for Patton's work habits, Grimm said he could have had better attendance in offseason workouts. "You talk salary numbers, intangibles -- there are a lot of little things that go into it," he added.
Patton was scheduled to count $1.5 million against the salary cap this year. Less than two years ago the Redskins signed him to a five-year, $12.5 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus. While cutting Patton frees up room under the salary cap, they may not need it. Seattle wide receiver Joey Galloway, the player the Redskins most covet, isn't likely to be traded to the Redskins.
Left tackle is a position of critical importance to the Redskins, who had trouble last season protecting quarterback Trent Green. The line gave up a team-record 61 sacks last season.
But the Redskins had their best results after Patton took over as the starting left tackle with five games remaining. The Redskins were 4-1 in those games. Moreover, with Patton at left tackle, the Redskins gave up an average of 2.4 sacks per game. Before he took over the job, the line gave up an average of 3.8 sacks per game.
The Redskins' decision to cut their best player at a position of critical need sent different signals to different players.
"Some guys think it was a mistake, and some guys don't know what to think," said defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield. "Some guys say it's a loss to the team, which it definitely is a loss because he was such a good player."
Added backup quarterback Rodney Peete: "I think the attitude is that nobody is safe. You have to go out and perform each and every week. That's the approach the coaching staff has taken: Each player has to go out and do his job to the utmost of his ability each and every week."
Vickers, 30, didn't play an NFL game last season. He spent training camp with Indianapolis but was released afterward. The Redskins claimed him off the waiver wire on Nov. 24, but he was inactive the last five games of the season. He has started six games in a four-year career and last started at left tackle in 1996.
While some argue that Vickers's arms are too short to be an effective pass blocker, Grimm said his quick feet more than compensate.
Grimm said he felt the Redskins' offensive line was in better shape than at this time a year ago, largely because players haven't had to be switched from one position to another. Last season's mounting injuries meant that the Redskins used five offensive line combinations, which made it hard to build cohesion in the unit.
"The biggest thing is," Grimm said, "we haven't had to shuffle people around and that's what causes you problems. We feel right now we've got backups that are reliable."
Still, Vickers made at least two mistakes in Saturday's preseason victory over Pittsburgh. He failed to report as an eligible receiver on one play, which resulted in a penalty that negated a touchdown reception by rookie tight end Robert Tardio. He also made a mental mistake that led to a sack of backup quarterback Casey Weldon.
"Obviously he can do better," Grimm said. "He has worked hard in the offseason. He's got good feet. Like I said, we feel confident if something happens, he can do the job."
On balance, Peete said he felt "pretty good" about the team's depth at left tackle, adding: "Only time will tell how we do."