The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For the Redskins, everything’s on the line

The Redskins’ offensive line allowed 43 sacks last season — tied for 14th-most in the NFL. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

At the NFL combine, Jay Gruden has the proper grasp of what the Redskins need: a lot of new offensive linemen. The first-year coach spent nearly two months watching tape of last season — when Washington fell from NFC East champions to 3-13. He quickly realized the rebuilding process won’t be easy.

“We have a lot of holes everywhere,” he said. “Any time you’re 3-13, there’s a lot of needs.”

The Redskins are going nowhere unless quarterback Robert Griffin III rebounds from a poor season. The needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the one, despite what Spock and his Vulcan logic would say.

Griffin lifted the franchise into the playoffs as a rookie in the 2012 season. Washington probably would have been 5-11 without him. After missing the entire 2013 offseason and preseason after knee surgery, he really wasn’t ready and the Redskins floundered.

Griffin should be healthy this year and Gruden’s task will be meshing what the coach’s system does best with what Griffin does well. Gruden can’t force the passer to run particular plays like the preceding staff did.

Still, the coach knows Griffin won’t last long if the quarterback continues to dance behind the line, so Gruden’s creating more five- to seven-step drops to give Griffin more time to see defenders.

But — and here’s the whole point of the five-day combine for Washington — the team needs four new linemen. Without a first-round pick, there was no need to watch quarterback Johnny Manziel or defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The Redskins scouted offensive linemen Taylor Lewan of Michigan and Zack Martin of Notre Dame and will scheme over the next two months how they can trade back into the first round to get a premier tackle like those two.

Also, they looked at guards Gabe Jackson of Mississippi State and Cyril Richardson of Baylor, trying to decide which they like more for second- or third-round options. And, it didn’t hurt looking at centers like Travis Swanson of Arkansas and Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma.

Free agency will largely decide who the Redskins draft. But it’s hard to find starting veteran linemen on the market. In free agency, there are always decent receivers or corners available, but teams rarely let quality linemen depart because there aren’t enough around the league.

The Redskins need to build a unit around left tackle Trent Williams. Fixing the offensive line is even more essential if Griffin is going to spend more time in the pocket. Washington absolutely has to replace aging guard Chris Chester, right tackle Tyler Polumbus and center Will Montgomery.

At least Gruden isn’t in denial. The line comes first, finally.