June 8, 2010

What if the Offensive Line Doesn't Suck?

Now don’t get all crazy on me, but what if the 2010 Redskins offensive line this season turns out to be, you know ... good?

Most Redskins observers—bloggers, media, Clavins at the bar—have preached for what seems a very a long time that the offensive line has been and remains a glaring team weakness. And given how ugly it has gotten on the field at times, there is still plenty of echoing evidence to support the notion.

The new regime at Redskins Park this offseason certainly seemed to "get it," saying early on that the lines were going to be a priority. It seemed logical enough to conclude that they would hit the ground running in free agency and the draft to restock the offensive line.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to their first training camp. They really didn’t ...

Yes, they did start the free agency period by bringing in two relatively obscure offensive linemen, veteran journeyman Artis Hicks and third-year man Kory Lichtensteiger.

And they did later spend the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft to take their highest-rated left tackle on the board, LT Trent Williams, and I don’t undersell that move—it could pay dividends for years.

But that has pretty much been it.

They may still pick up another body or two in late free agency or from training camp cut-downs later this summer, but with each passing day the likelihood of finding a plug-and-play starter via that route gets slimmer.

All of which makes reading reports like this one on the current state/attitude of the five gentlemen currently projected to start the season against Dallas on September 12 that much more ... relevant.

Seriously, if you had predicted back in March that come June they would be projecting a starting lineup of a rookie left tackle, Derrick Dockery, Casey Rabach, Big Mike Williams and Artis Hicks, I’d have told you you were nuts ...

Current OL per redskins.com (projected starters in bold):

C Casey Rabach
C/G Erik Cook
C/G Will Montgomery
C/G Edwin Williams
G Derrick Dockery
G Paul Fanaika
G Kory Lichtensteiger
G/T Artis Hicks
G/T Chad Rinehart
G/T Mike Williams
OT Trent Williams
OT Selvish Capers
OT Stephon Heyer
OT Clint Oldenburg
OT William Robinson

Come on. No way a brain trust like Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen would go with that.

Would they?

Well, just for the sake of argument ... what if over the past five months they have looked at what they have on hand and are not just satisfied, but happy?

Shanahan has been consistent and vocal about fostering “competition” all across the board, and the Redskins have lived up to that promise, bringing in a ton of defensive linemen, receivers, running backs, quarterbacks ... but not offensive linemen.


Have Shanahan and Allen spent too much time in the sun?

Do they not see what seems so abundantly clear to everyone this side of departed personnel head Vinny Cerrato?

Did they look out across the big man landscape and not see anything else in early free agency or earlier in the draft than late-round picks Cook and Capers they liked, and resign themselves to watching helplessly as yet another Redskins quarterback gets abused by swarming defensive linemen?

Or could it be that maybe, just maybe, they know something the rest of us don’t?

Is it conceivable that the red-headed stepchild of the burgundy and gold roster—an offensive line so long maligned it has become almost cliche—might actually be able to play?

Maybe we should at least allow for the possibility, if for no other reason than doing otherwise would flatly imply Shanahan and Allen are ignorant of the proverbial wooly mammoth in the room.

Which brings us to the fun part ...

What if the offensive line actually does turn out to be good?

What if whatever combination emerges from the running back competition between returning (and presumably healthy) Clinton Portis, newcomers Larry Johnson and Willie Parker or whoever ends up on the final roster have holes to run through?

What if newly acquired six-time Pro Bowl QB Donovan McNabb has a little time to throw?

What if the revamped receiving corps he has time to throw to has enough professional-grade depth to dictate single coverage from time to time?

What if opposing defensive coordinators discover they cannot simply send the house after the Redskins quarterback on every passing down with little fear of being burned down the field?

What if new Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan finds he can draw up an actual NFL-level offensive gameplan, comfortable that he can occasionally expect his six-time Pro Bowl passer to get enough time to take a seven-step drop, look off the safety and come back across the field?

What if he gets to pick and choose from his gameday playsheet and establish an offensive rhythm (don't worry younger Redskins fans, you'll know one when you see it), because his line is holding its own and his playmakers are getting an opportunity to use their skills?

What if new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett can game-plan and call his defense with a reasonable expectation of his offense sustaining drives as often as not, providing him field position, a fresh pass rush and (gasp) perhaps more than one score fourth-quarter leads once in a while?

Oh, I know. Silliness. Burgundy and gold colored glasses. The Reskins offensive line is a stone cold lock weakness. It is old, thin, generally blows chunks and everyone knows it.

Still, as the days and weeks slip by and all remains quiet on the Redskins OL front, I can't help but wonder ...

What if everyone is wrong?


Rich Tandler said...

Good work as always, Mark. I've been wonder about this myself. I actually like the starters but the depth is pretty scary. If two guys go down, it looks like we're back to last year.

Unless Shanahan and company can make chicken salad out of chicken scratch. And they just might be able to.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Thanks Rich.

Guess I'd respond that based on the names alone, both the starters *and* depth look a little scary. There's a whole lotta "who?" and "really?" in there.

Still, there may be a little whistling past the graveyard in this post but I figured it was worth putting out there that given how obvious the scary parts seem, the fact the brain trust has been quite as cool as it has on the issue might mean something's afoot.

I just hope it doesn't end up smelling like one.

Anonymous said...

I think interior depth isn't as bad as we think either. The staff is said to be happy with Rinehart and Will Montgomery has always been serviceable. Lichtensteiger has played center as have Edwin Williams. Not to mention the big unknowns of Eric Cook and Selvish Capers.

The real scare comes at Tackle. There is no veteran tackle on this roster to provide much depth. I still think its shaky expecting Artis Hicks to spend a full year at Right Tackle in the NFC East. Also putting a rookie at Left Tackle in this division, regardless of his talent is a bit much. There are definitely going to be growing pains. Heyer is a 4th tackle on most teams. Hopefully at some point the team can sign some veteran depth at Tackle and I think the skins will at least have a middle of the road / serviceable line.

Anonymous said...

Also one thing to note is that Shanny is very fond of rolling his QB's out of the pocket and keeping the line / rb / qb a moving unit and tougher to hit.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Anon, if there's one specific hole I see that has to have the team nervous it's backup LT. Williams will have growing pains, yes, but I suspect he'll be at least serviceable from jump--Shanahan will make sure he's not exposed early.

But if Williams goes down ...

I can practically guarantee Bruce Allen has a board on his wall he studies every single day listing every LT with starting experience in the NFL out there that might possibly become available between now and opening day. And their agents phone numbers on speed dial.

Just can't see them entering the season with Heyer/Capers/?? as the depth on McNabb's blind side.

Anonymous said...

There were a few whispers earlier in free agency about the Redskins looking at Jammal Brown of the Saints. Is there any chance they still make a move to acquire him as the season draws closer? Also, what about Chester Pitts as a free agent pick-up? He's played in Kyle Shanahans system and was a solid starter for years before an injury last season.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Haven't been watching the trackers lately, but based on a quick look ...

Brown is a RFA (Saints), so if the Skins go after him it'll obviously cost. It will depend if/how bad they think they need help as training camp progresses, and what becomes available from cut-downs or from the crop of remaning UFA's.

Pitts IS a UFA, but is more guard than the tackle I think the Redskins will be more likely looking to add.

You did inspire me to put together a "Remaining OT FA's & Possible OT Cut-down Candidates" tracker post of some kind though. I'll try to have that up and running soon ...

MLSkins said...

Good article Om. I don't know why everybody is so worried about the offensive line. When was the last time Mike Shanahan had a weak offensive line. His system works. As of matter of fact, I would be shocked if the o-line is bad.