Most of the talk about Washington's offseason acquisitions focused on the arrival of two starting wide receivers -- Santana Moss and David Patten -- but the change at center could be as significant. Casey Rabach, who moved around the offensive line with Baltimore, was considered perhaps the best center available in free agency, and the Redskins expect him to provide a major upgrade. At 6 feet 4 and 301 pounds, Rabach is not a huge specimen by today's standards, but he is athletic and versatile, which should help in the retooled running game.

Lennie Friedman, the starting center at the start of last season, lost the job to Cory Raymer early in the season after a series of bad exchanges with the quarterbacks, and Washington never got the sustained push from the middle of the offensive line it needed to be a power, inside running team. Raymer and Freidman could end up competing for a roster spot, as the Redskins have several young offensive linemen who are being groomed by Joe Bugel. Ray Brown, a starter last season, has virtually ensured himself a reserve lineman spot. Friedman and Raymer might be found moving around the line during the preseason, and Friedman filled in at guard last season.


Position: Defensive line.

College: Wake Forest.

Who He Is: A Takoma Park native, Nichols says he's been a Redskin all his life. "It's finally good to put the helmet on for real," he said. Nichols attended Sidwell Friends and then Wake Forest, where he redshirted his freshman year.

How He's Doing: Soaking in sweat as he walked off the field Wednesday, Nichols's job wasn't over. In each hand was a set of pads -- part of his rookie chores for the day: carrying veterans' pads to the locker room. The extra work hasn't seemed to have an effect on his play. Nichols has shown good athletic ability in drills. Defensive coordinator-defensive line coach Greg Blache said he got a glimpse of Nichols's athletic prowess during organized team activities earlier in the summer and was glad to see him perform in pads during training camp. "The fundamentals and athleticism are there," Blache said. The key for Nichols and the other linemen, however, is not to prove their physical ability. "They have to sell me on trust," Blache said. "Can we trust them to take [what they learn] from the classroom to the field?"

Chances of Making the Roster: Most teams prefer to use multiple defensive linemen in their rotation to keep players fresh. The Redskins, for example, picked up some fairly unknown free agents to bolster their line last season, including Joe Salave'a, Ron Warner and Demetric Evans. Nichols seems to have a legitimate shot to be the next lineman to make the jump.



Days until the Redskins take on the Bears at FedEx Field

-- Jason La Canfora and Daniel Lyght