The Washington Redskins' offensive line played its first game without its rock, right tackle Jon Jansen, who ruptured his right Achilles' tendon last week. The so-called Dirtbags have resembled a worn-out punching bag after being hard hit by injuries recently. And the first test for the undermanned unit came against one of the NFL's most formidable defensive lines, led by Carolina Panthers sack specialist Julius Peppers.
The Redskins looked out of sync with mishandled snaps and little room for Washington's runners along the line of scrimmage. Although the first unit protected the quarterbacks fairly well, the running game sputtered during a 23-20 loss last night at FedEx Field, as the offense struggled yet again.
The Redskins rushed for 102 yards on 26 carries, an average of 3.9. But the final statistics were skewed because the biggest gains came against third-stringers and players likely to be released by the regular season. Clinton Portis, the linchpin of Joe Gibbs's run-heavy offense, had 15 yards on five carries.
"It's disappointing to us and to the guys," Gibbs said. "It's something we have to take a really good look at and evaluate."
Right guard Randy Thomas played after missing the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos with a swollen knee. "I felt kind of rusty," he said. "It was fun to be out with those guys. But I don't think any one of us got anything done tonight. We've got three more games to go to get better. I think we'll be fine. This is my first time playing a game with the line this year so we'll get that chemistry again."
The focus of the line was on Jansen's replacement, Kenyatta Jones, who entered the preseason as the backup to left guard Derrick Dockery. Jones was in the spotlight against left defensive end Peppers, one of the league's premier pass rushers. Peppers lived up to his billing in the first quarter by outmaneuvering Jones to sack Patrick Ramsey on the Redskins. On third and nine from the Washington 29, Peppers dropped Ramsey for a seven-yard loss.
Experience was one factor in the Redskins choosing Jones to replace Jansen: In 2001, Jones started 11 games for the New England Patriots, who won the Super Bowl. Except for the sack, Jones held his own against Peppers, and the first unit had time to throw in the first half. "He's in a tough situation," Thomas said. "But we have faith in Kenyatta. He did well tonight, especially in the situation he was in."
For much of the first quarter, the offensive line played as if it was pieced together for the first time. On second and five from the Washington 7-yard line, Ramsey fumbled a snap from center Lennie Friedman. The fumble was recovered by left tackle Chris Samuels near the end zone, and he managed to get the back to the 1-yard line.
Washington's offensive line, especially its right side, flourished early in the fourth quarter when both team's reserves were in. On first and 10 from the Washington 48, Rock Cartwright (eight carries for 47 yards) zipped through a huge hole on the right side for 34 yards, bringing a roar from the crowd of 58,876. Bill Ferrario at right guard and Daryl Terrell at right tackle created another hole for Sultan McCullough -- the ultra-quick tailback competing to make the roster -- who dashed right and then cut left before galloping into the end zone to tie the game at 17.
The left side of the line has been sturdy with Samuels, the two-time Pro Bowler, attempting to bounce back from a lackluster season and Dockery, a second-year player. The strength of the left side is one reason that Bugel didn't re-jigger the line and put Dockery at right tackle, a position he played at the University of Texas. "We weren't all in sync," Dockery said. "We'll check it out on film. We didn't do well on the run so that's what we'll have to fix."