RICHMOND – As they watched their priority offensive line free agent signing of the year participate in offseason practices, Jay Gruden and his assistants had real concerns.
Shawn Lauvao, whom Washington had signed away from Cleveland to a four-year, $17 million deal with plans of starting him at left guard, didn’t look very promising as he tried to transition from the power blocking schemes of the Browns to his new team’s zone-blocking schemes.
“Shawn Lauvao, in OTAs we were a little worried, I’m not going to lie. He struggled a little bit,” Gruden said before later describing the struggles as, “He was a little late early on and in OTAs, just not really timing the snap count up well.”
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Lauvao described the Redskins’ style of play as “totally different” than the Browns’ style. But he signed with Washington after a former teammate, Tony Pashos, who had spent time with the Redskins, gave the team and the system the thumbs up.
Fast forward roughly three months forward to training camp, and Gruden and his staff observe a different player.
“He’s probably the most improved player on this team I think from OTAs until now,” the coach said. “… offensive line coach [Chris] Foerster has done a really good job with him, getting him out of his stance on time. … Now he’s getting up out of the snap count, getting out of his stance and getting up to the next level in the running game and he’s doing a good job with the stunts in the passing game and the blitzes and blocking man on. Shawn’s done a good job. He’s been a very good, solid pickup for us and we’re happy to have him.”
Lauvao attributed his improved play to natural growth and comfort in a new system.
“I think putting on pads really helps a lot,” he said. “In my mind, when you just wear jerseys, it just doesn’t really feel realistic to me. But more than anything, the two positions that are learn-programmed is cornerback and offensive line. These aren’t natural things you’re asked to do: stepping back then running, coming out of a three-point stance. That feels unnatural all the time. So it takes time, and now I’m getting there. But it’s also a credit to the other guys and the coaches helping me become more comfortable.”
Lauvao has leaned on center Kory Lichtensteiger, who this season moved from starting left guard to starting center. Left tackle Trent Williams also has worked to help his new linemate in his education process.
“I think the biggest thing is knowing the schemes and the concepts, and that can take a while, going to a new place,” Lauvao said. “I was at the previous place four years, and you get used to that. But having gone through the OTAs and now in training camp, you start to learn guys’ tendencies.”
Lauvao expects the improvements to continue to come after getting preseason games under his belt, and as he draws closer to the regular season.
“I’ve always felt like, ‘Once the regular season comes, then it’s time for me to go to work,’” he says.
On a side note: Williams is now the second Pro Bowl left tackle that Lauvao has played next to. He spent the first four years of his career next to Joe Thomas, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection. And now he has Williams, who has now made back-to-back Pro Bowls. Lauvao says talented teammates such as those two help make his job easier.
“Trent is one of the best left tackles I’ve seen besides Joe Thomas. They’re definitely the anomalies. I’ll say that. It’s been a privilege and a blessing to play next to those two,” he said.
Asked to compare the two, Lauvao said, “They’re two different styles. Physically it makes no sense some of the things Trent can do. And Joe is such a technician. It’s really splitting hairs. At the end of the day, there’s things he’s good at and things he’s good at. There’s a bunch of different ways to skin the cat.”
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Washington’s 8:35 a.m. practice Thursday is underway, and there’s a 4:10 p.m. walkthrough. Here’s our camp guide, if you’re planning to attend.
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