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The WFT offensive line has shuffled a lot during training camp. That might not be a bad thing.

The instability on Washington's offensive line during training camp has created the unpredictable situations Coach Ron Rivera wants the unit to be prepared for. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Over the first two weeks of training camp, the Washington Football Team’s offensive line has been something of a carousel. The team has had to consistently reconfigure its first and second teams because since the day camp opened at least one lineman has been on the reserve/covid-19 list. This includes reserve tackle David Sharpe, the only player left on the list who hasn’t begun his ramp-up period to return.

In one sense, the instability has disrupted the competitions Coach Ron Rivera wanted to create at left guard and right tackle. Cornelius Lucas was supposed to battle second-round draft pick Sam Cosmi at right tackle but spent the first 10 days of camp on the covid list. Even since he has returned, Rivera conceded, “it’s really tough to catch back up to everybody” and “he has to continue to get into football shape.”

Yet the consistent shuffling has also had a silver lining. Offensive line coach John Matsko has been able to experiment with different players at different positions along the rebuilt line — a unit that played solidly last year but went through some personnel changes this offseason.

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On Sunday, Washington kept the same first team for one of the first times all camp — Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle, Wes Schweitzer at left guard, Chase Roullier at center, Brandon Scherff at right guard, Cosmi at right tackle — but Rivera said to expect movement in the team’s first preseason game on Thursday at New England.

“We’re still rolling guys around,” Rivera said. “As far as our depth’s concerned, there’s a lot of guys that have a lot of ability, a lot of potential to start. That’s the nice thing about having these three preseason games. We’ll have an opportunity to see everybody.”

Left tackle
Left guard
Center
Right guard
Right tackle
First
Charles Leno Jr.
Wes Schweitzer
Chase Roullier
Brandon Scherff
Sam Cosmi
Second
Cornelius Lucas
Ereck Flowers
Tyler Larsen
Wes Martin
Saahdiq Charles
Third
David Steinmetz
Keith Ismael
Saahdiq Charles
Rick Leonard

Rivera places a good deal of importance on offensive line depth and versatility. He kept 10 offensive linemen on the original 53-man roster last year and pointed out that at one point during the season the team had 16 between the active roster and practice squad. Earlier this year, he told one of the origin stories for why he emphasizes “position flex” in player evaluation.

When he was defensive coordinator for San Diego in the late 2000s, he said, the Chargers were playing at Oakland when two guards went down. Coach Norv Turner only kept two extra linemen on the game day roster, so he had to throw in a rookie tackle, whom even the line coach thought had never played guard. Rivera remembered the rookie played well; the Chargers won; and, after the game, everyone found out the kid had in fact played some guard in college.

Last season, in Week 10 at Detroit, Rivera received a reminder about the pitfalls of inflexibility when the team had to shift right tackle Morgan Moses to left in the middle of a game because Sharpe, the swing tackle, couldn’t play left. (Before he went on the covid list, Sharpe practiced mostly at second-team left tackle.)

“We don’t need to wait until September in the middle of a game [for] a guy who has never taken a snap with the number one offensive line … to take a snap with number one offensive line,” Rivera said.

For example, early in camp, a team staffer whisked Scherff away from the field in the middle of practice for a trip to the covid list. Schweitzer, who had been playing left guard, shifted to Scherff’s spot at right guard, and Ereck Flowers replaced him at left. Schweitzer called the sudden switch “a deal but not a huge deal,” in part because he had done it before.

“If we ever had to shift around for covid reasons [during the season], like right now, we’re going to be ready for it,” Schweitzer said. “If you’re a team player and you’re really in it for the team, then you should be ready to meet that expectation. … If I’m going to left guard, if I’m going to center, if I’m going to tackle — whatever. You just got to play ball.”

The Washington Football Team and its fans return for a practice at FedEx Field

No lineman has shifted around more than Saahdiq Charles. The 2020 fourth-round pick has played every position but center, as Matsko has used him to paper over unexpected absences. Charles has played guard and tackle since high school, and as a rookie, he earned a start at left guard — though he dislocated his right kneecap after two plays and had surgery in the offseason.

Now, he doesn’t have a clear position. The plan seems to be to familiarize him with as many as possible so he can be the line’s utility man. But wherever he ends up, Charles knows he must prove he’s capable and reliable. Assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton has emphasized to him he must refine his technique to complement his natural athleticism, and he’s focused on the little things, such as run-blocking footwork.

“I feel like I’m progressing real well,” Charles said, before adding a statement that encapsulated the team’s approach with the line throughout camp so far.

“The physical repetition [of playing so many positions] helps way more than just looking at cards.”

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