When quarterback Robert Griffin III is asked to evaluate the Washington Redskins’ new-look receiving corps, his smile often reveals his excitement before his words. The Redskins hope Griffin eventually becomes enthusiastic about their offensive line, too.
Last fall, Griffin masked his frustration about the group’s deficiencies in pass protection much better than he concealed his distrust of former coach Mike Shanahan. The Redskins invested in the line — it was long overdue — during the offseason in an effort to bolster the passing game and make Griffin happy (not necessarily in that order). The newcomers must help quickly.
In free agency, Redskins President and General Manager Bruce Allen acquired new starting guard Shawn Lauvao. Then Allen selected tackle Morgan Moses and guard Spencer Long in the third round of the NFL draft. With former guard Kory Lichtensteiger moving to center, the Redskins envision having a better and deeper group in front of Griffin. Cynical Redskins observers would argue the team’s line couldn’t be much worse at protecting quarterbacks.
Griffin and backup Kirk Cousins, who started the final three games, were sacked 43 times combined, tied for the 14th-highest total in the 32-team league.
In addition to the sacks, several Redskins linemen — with the exception of gifted Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams — were prone to major breakdowns in protection that disrupted the offense’s timing and, as a result, its production.
Protection issues were among the biggest factors in Washington’s 3-13 collapse after it won the NFC East in 2012. The Redskins’ problems started in the middle.
Former center Will Montgomery might as well have lined up a few yards in the backfield on passing plays. He usually wound up there. After impressing in 2012, Montgomery seemed to regress weekly in 2013.
Many within the organization expect the agile Lichtensteiger, with a listed playing weight of 284 pounds (undersized for a NFL guard), to provide a big upgrade at center. Lichtensteiger will have to add weight, which he plans to do, to take on 340-plus pound nose tackles. He already has proved he possesses the smarts and motor to get the job done.
Lauvao, 26, is in the process of showing his new teammates what he’s got. A three-year starter at guard for the Cleveland Browns, Lauvao, listed at 6 feet 3, 315 pounds, wasn’t considered among the top available free agent linemen. But the Redskins rushed to sign Lauvao, who has a reputation of being better in pass protection than run blocking, at the outset of free agency.
“He’s already getting comfortable” during offseason practices at Redskins Park, Williams said. “We added a veteran. He knows what he needs to do.”
The Redskins definitely need to shore up their interior protection, which brings me to guard Chris Chester. He’s coming off a rough year. If he doesn’t rebound and Long shows a pulse, there soon could be a changing of the guard. Players drafted in the third round are expected to contribute, and Long was picked to fill an area of need. Same with Moses.
Right tackle Tyler Polumbus is entering his third full season as a Redskins starter. No one is happier about that than the Redskins’ opponents. If Moses proves he’s ready, his path to first string seems clear.
It’s impossible for new Coach Jay Gruden to determine how effective the reconfigured line will be once the Redskins’ regular season kicks off in September. “I feel good with the progress we’re making, even though we are not in pads,” Gruden said the other day. “Some guys are going to perform better with pads on than they do with pads off.
“Some guys are going to perform worse with pads on. Those are the guys we’ve got to find out [about]. But I like the way they are working. I like the way they are being coached. That’s a start.”
It’s one Griffin also is pleased about. He wasn’t shy while expressing his opinion on the roster to management, people within the organization say, and served as the team’s ace recruiter during free agency.
Griffin all but pleaded for more weapons. The Redskins signed wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, and Griffin is counting on the line to give him time to get them the ball.
“We’ve got some new additions,” Griffin said. “The competition will be great. It’s great for everybody.”
The group also should benefit from Griffin’s improved physical condition and experience. He’s out of the bulky, protective knee brace he wore during last season, his first after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery for the second time. That should improve his mobility.
Last season, some on the coaching staff privately suggested the line received too much blame for the protection problems. Obviously, the line wasn’t the league’s best, the coaches acknowledged, but Griffin “played his way” into many sacks. With a better understanding of pocket presence, Griffin could help the big guys who are supposed to help him.
The line is accomplished at run blocking, as evidenced by running back Alfred Morris’s 3,043 yards — with a 4.8-yard average — in his first two seasons. Gruden would be foolish to scrap Shanahan’s outside-stretch-zone-blocking system. We hear he’s not foolish.
For the Redskins, this season will be all about trying to rebuild Griffin’s game. An offensive line that’s solid in pass protection could only help.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.