The goal of NFL offensive linemen, for the most part, is to not draw attention to themselves through their play. The object is to be a wall or, more precisely, to be a cinderblock in a wall that doesn’t allow pressure on quarterbacks or hits on ball carriers.
As a rookie NFL lineman cast in an unfamiliar role, Redskins right guard Brandon Scherff has done well at just that, establishing himself as a reliable contributor toward a 3-4 record that’s solid enough to keep Washington relevant in this season’s undistinguished NFC East.
In interviews, Scherff has proven nearly as impenetrable—not inclined to give up much, even in response to questions about his favorite pastime. A recent exchange:
Q: What do you like to fish for?
Q: When did you first go hunting?
A: “Seventh grade.”
Q: What did you hunt with?
Verbs are a rarity in interviews with Scherff. He uses adjectives even more sparingly. But this man of few words has emerged as an NFL lineman of few mistakes — despite switching from left tackle at Iowa to right tackle after the Redskins chose him with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft before being converted to right guard during training camp.
In his Week 1 debut, the 6-foot-5, 319-pound Scherff kept Miami’s Ndamukong Suh in check, limiting the league’s most handsomely compensated defensive tackle to two tackles and no quarterback pressures.
After the Week 2 victory over St. Louis, which boasted an equally imposing defensive front, Rams Coach Jeff Fisher compared Scherff and his linemates to the staunch Cowboys lines schooled by Bill Callahan, whom the Redskins hired as their offensive line coach in the off-season.
Though the Redskins’ rushing attack has dropped off sharply the past three games, now just 21st in the NFL (99 yards per game), right guard is one less roster spot for Coach Jay Gruden to worry about as he assesses what needs improving in the nine games that follow the bye week.
“The right side of our line with Brandon and Morgan [Moses] has been excellent as far as their growth process is concerned,” Gruden said before players adjourned for their five-day break. “I think we have a lot to build off of up front. We’ve just got to get better in the running game.”
That’s Scherff’s priority, too.
“Obviously we want to run the ball,” Scherff said this week. “We started the season off [running the ball well]. We need to get back to where we began. We’re gonna take advantage of this bye week to relax and recover, and hit it hard on Monday.”
Scherff’s said his plan for the five-day break included plenty of rest, some film study and a trip home to Iowa for deer hunting.
Seven games into the season, Scherff and Moses are the only two linemen among the five opening-day starters to have not missed a game because of injury. Left guard Shawn Lauvao suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Left tackle Trent Williams missed one game because of a concussion. And center Kory Lichtensteiger has been sidelined by a disc injury that’s affecting his strength on his left side.
As a result, Scherff was second-most experienced starter on the Redskins offensive line for a stretch. Moreover, among the top 10 selections in the 2015 NFL draft, Scherff and Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (chosen eighth overall) are alone in starting all seven games.
As a lineman, Scherff hasn’t found the spotlight the way NFL “skill players” do. Early conversations about NFL rookie of the year candidates have tended to highlight Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (fourth overall), who has drawn comparisons to Odell Beckham Jr. And though his debut was delayed by a lingering injury, Rams running back Todd Gurley could mount a late charge, exploding in his three starts to date, including rushing for more than 100 yards and the game-winning score in the fourth quarter against Arizona.
Several pundits faulted the Redskins for spending a fifth-round pick on Scherff, whom most projected as an interior lineman, arguing that only left tackles justify such an investment.
But steadiness is Scherff’s game. And like Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen before him, his true value as a Redskin might not be clear until he has played six, seven, eight or more years on the line.
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