The Washington Redskins’ offensive line was a question mark to many entering training camp, a unit that needed to be patched together during an injury-filled preseason and only now is nearing full strength. It gets its first regular season test this weekend, with the duty of safeguarding prized rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III in his first NFL game.
By itself, that would be complicated enough. But add the circumstances of Sunday’s season opener being in New Orleans — in the din of the Superdome, against a Saints team likely to be fixated on taking out its frustrations from the bounty scandal on its first opponent — and the task facing Griffin’s blockers appears considerable.
The members of the Redskins’ offensive line acknowledge that, but vow to be ready.
“You know that fan base is going to be fired up,” right tackle Tyler Polumbus said this week. “They’re going to be loud. It’s always loud, but I think coming out the first game after everything they’ve been through, they’re going to be fired up.”
The Saints are finishing one of the most tumultuous offseasons in NFL history after the league concluded that the team operated a bounty system that paid players cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.
The Saints are on their third-string head coach, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who is in charge while Sean Payton serves a full-season suspension and interim replacement Joe Vitt serves a six-game suspension. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, the two holdovers among the four players suspended by the league in the bounty scandal, will be out of the lineup Sunday.
Yet it’s possible that the Saints could use the fallout from the bounty penalties to their advantage. The players involved are contesting the allegations, and the feeling within the organization and the city that the NFL wronged the Saints promises to create an emotionally charged atmosphere, on Sunday and beyond.
“It’s going to be extremely tough,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said after Monday’s practice at Redskins Park. “But what can you do? We’ve got to go play there . . . We’ll come out and play well.”
Griffin’s elusiveness could help the Redskins’ offensive line cope with the Saints’ pass rushers. But Griffin’s blockers must do their part. The offensive line must try to settle into a groove quickly, after an unsettled preseason.
Polumbus starts at right tackle for Jammal Brown, who begins the season on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing hip surgery. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger hopes to return to the lineup this week after missing all four preseason games following arthroscopic knee surgery in the opening days of training camp. Right guard Chris Chester was plagued by a sprained ankle during the preseason but seems fine now.
“Oviously you’d like to have the same five guys in there all the time,” said Polumbus, who made four starts for the Redskins last season filling in for Brown. “But that’s not the real world. We’re all professionals. And so the job of the next guy is to come in and play as if he’s the first guy in there. I think we’ve done a good job to stay on the same page.”
Williams suffered briefly from a bruised foot during the preseason, leaving center Will Montgomery as the only member of the original starting offensive line without an injury. But Williams said he isn’t overly concerned about a lack of cohesion Sunday.
“We’re feeling good,” Williams said. “We’ve got a lot of the parts together. We’ve got Kory back. That’s huge. We’re healthy. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Lichtensteiger said he’s “very” confident that the offensive line will play well in New Orleans even without working together during training camp and the preseason.
“We’ve been there together” previously, Lichtensteiger said. “More importantly, we’ve all been in the same scheme together for so long. I mean, Polumbus hasn’t been here that long. But he comes from this scheme. So even though we haven’t all played together as a unit for that long, I don’t think there will be any setback to it.”
Said Polumbus: “I think we’re all feeling good. We have a great group of guys. We’re all on the same page and we’re just excited to start the season.”