In the first post-lockout week of 2011, every team in the NFL was busy trying to make trades, sign free agents, dump problems and looking to spackle holes in the roster with the pool of undrafted free agents.
The Washington Redskins were no exception. They got rid of the two guys everyone expected — Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth — and a few no one really expected, such as veteran center Casey Rabach. And they certainly bulked up the roster, in quality (defense) and quantity (wide receiver, which could be an embarrassment of riches, or just an embarrassment).
After all those moves, though, didn’t you expect them to bolster the offensive line? I certainly did. And yet, other than cutting Rabach and picking up guard Chris Chester out of Baltimore, they’ve done squadoosh.
On the O-line? Really?
They have their reasons, the Shanahans — Mike and Kyle — do. Coach Mike Shanahan is preaching continuity because the playbook — apparently so complex it makes string theory look like an episode of “Sesame Street” — requires very technical zone blocking schemes. And because very few teams use anything like it — quelle surprise! — it’s hard to bring in players from other teams and plug them in. It’s harder when you don’t have organized team activities and minicamps because of a lockout.
So seen in that light, the Shanahans’ decision to keep the guys from last year’s roster (minus Rabach) is understandable. Scary, for Redskins fans, but understandable.
Chester can’t practice until Thursday, but he’s in camp, presumably being tutored on the blocking sets by a group of scientists from MIT. In a perfect world, when Chester understands his job, the line, from left to right, will be Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chester and Jammal Brown.
(A perfect world, of course, requires that none of the five starters be injured, and when was the last time that the Redskins’ entire line was healthy at the same time? But that’s a problem for another day.)
This is where the loss of Clinton Portis also could hurt the Redskins. I was never a huge fan of Portis as a team leader, and I was certainly not surprised they let him go, but when healthy, he was a terrific blocking back. Newly signed back Tim Hightower has a similar reputation, and that could very well be the deciding factor in whether he wins a starting job.
I understand the Shanahans’ reasoning. It’s true the linemen who were here a year ago know the offense. It’s true that Brown improved over the course of the season and that the Redskins are expecting a big season from him. It’s probably true that Williams will make a big jump from his rookie season to his sophomore season, and he seems to know he fell short in 2010, saying “I had a sour taste in my mouth after last season, and I just wanted to get better. I wanted to come back a totally different player.”
But all those things and more need to happen, because behind this line could be a quarterback who hasn’t taken a professional snap since 2007. He’s going to need all the time he can get in the pocket, out of the pocket, running for his life, whatever. All while throwing to a crop of unfamiliar wide receivers. He’s got great faith in the Shanahans; let’s hope it’s not misplaced.
Godspeed, John Beck.