Within minutes of free agency opening, the Washington Redskins signed former Cleveland Browns guard Shawn Lauvao to a four-year contract worth $17 million. The 26-year-old third-round pick out of Arizona State in 2010 was far from the biggest name on the market, which made it a surprise that the Redskins moved so quickly to sign him. Lauvao is listed at 6 feet 3, 315 pounds, which is a good size for a guard in a zone-blocking-oriented scheme.

So what made the Redskins pounce so early on Lauvao? The interior offensive line struggled to protect Griffin in the passing game last season. Lauvao’s best quality is his pass protection. At times it might not look perfect, but he gets the job done. In the three games I watched, he was effective at picking up stunts by the defensive linemen.

On this play, the Jaguars run a ‘TEX’ (tackle/end cross) stunt. Lauvao lines up at right guard.

Lauvao manages to get his hands on the chest of the defensive tackle, who attacks his outside shoulder. Lauvao does a nice job recognizing the stunt, keeping his head up and getting eyes on the end crossing in behind the defensive tackle.

Lauvao hands off the defensive tackle to his right tackle before peeling off to deal with the defensive end. He engages and cuts off the initial gap to the quarterback.

Lauvao uses his angle and leverage to drive the defensive end into the other offensive lineman. It wasn’t a textbook block, but it got the job done and kept the pocket clean for the quarterback.

The awareness displayed on this play to recognize the stunt is evident on other plays in pass protection.

Here against the Ravens, Lauvao has Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones lined up across from him.

Lauvao manages to secure the block of Jones quickly and keeps his head on a swivel. He looks outside to his teammate at right tackle, who is struggling to stay with an inside move from the defensive end.

So Lauvao passes Jones off to center Alex Mack and comes across to cut off the inside rush for the defensive end, saving the right tackle from surrendering a potential sack.

But there are times when guards are asked to block a defensive tackle one-on-one without help. Lauvao looked comfortable doing that too.

This time Lauvao is matched up with one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL, Kyle Williams.

Williams starts by attacking the A gap to Lauvao’s left shoulder. Lauvao does a good job getting his hands on Williams early and slowing down the rush.

Lauvao re-positions himself inside and forces Williams to adjust his rush to the outside.

Williams attempts to get upfield, but Lauvao manages to mirror him well and cut off his route to the quarterback.

His pass protection should be an upgrade at either guard position for the Redskins. Incumbents Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester both struggled with this aspect of their game last season, resulting in pressure being surrendered up the middle.

However, Lauvao has plenty to work on in the run game. The Browns ran a combination of zone and power schemes, but Lauvao was one of their weaker run blockers. He has the size and athleticism to fit the zone scheme Washington is expected to hold over from the Mike Shanahan regime, but athleticism doesn’t always translate into effective blocking.

This is a zone run to the left. Lauvao should be assigned to get to the second level and block the Mike (middle) linebacker.

Initially, he does well getting quickly to the second level and engaging with the linebacker.

But he fails to maintain the block and gets away with a slight hold here as he attempted to stop the linebacker from running free to the back. The linebacker was able to break free and pursue the ball carrier. So while he showed potential to get to the second level, he failed to make a crucial block.

In the games I watched, he struggled to keep defensive linemen in front of him while blocking on the move. Here’s an example.

This is another zone play, this time run to the right.

Lauvao gets help early as he works the tandem block with the right tackle.

But as the right tackle peels off to move on to the second level, Lauvao begins to falter. He allows the defender to gain control of the block with just one arm on Lauvao’s chest. The defender gives himself the chance to work back inside against the direction of the run.

Lauvao surrenders the inside position, which takes away the cut-back option for the running back. With the tight end losing his block on the outside as well, the back is left with no option and is tackled for a loss.

In Lauvao, Washington has a young, athletic lineman who has upside but needs developing. Clearly the Redskins needed to improve their pass protection from last year, and Lauvao should be able to help with that. But Washington’s offense has been built on the success of its running game. Lauvao displays the athleticism desired from the guard position in a zone scheme, but will need to be coached well if he is to become an effective zone blocker.

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.

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