August 2, 2010

Putting it on the line - Size Matters

There was a time, back in the Gibbs Glory Days, when the Washington Redskins were thought of as a big team.  The relative size of the offensive line Gibbs and offensive line  guru Joe Bugel constructed in front of battering ram running back John Riggins might not turn heads by today's standards, but back then it was a different story.

From the Washington Post in 1982:

"Bugel likes his players big, so the first thing you notice about the Hogs is their size. The line averages 273 pounds, and will get even larger when Starke, who is small for a tackle (260 pounds), retires and is replaced by Laster, 290. Grimm is playing at 270, Bostic 255 and May at 288 after falling to 255 last year."
I remember reading something by a long-time NFL writer (whose name escapes me) back in those days, talking about how Gibbs, Riggins and the Redskins' power running game had (paraphrasing) taken the NFL by the scruff of the neck and dragged it kicking and screaming back to the good old days ... to when the league was about who was bigger, faster, stronger and more aggressive.   

The Hogs redefined how football was played in the 80's and how the football world has looked at offensive lines ever since. Back then the term "Hogs" was cute. Today it is part of the lexicon. Go to any high school football game on a Friday night and listen to the crowd. If you don't hear at least one Dad in the stands clench his teeth and growl about "the hogs inside," I'll buy next time we meet.

The Redskins offensive line was not only better coached, prepared and motivated than their opponents, they were also just plain bigger.

Apparently, size matters.

Don't think so? Joe Gibbs was once asked why he favored his team wearing white so much. He made some comment about it being cooler in the hot August and September sun, and I think suggested it was easier for his quarterback to find his receivers downfield in white. But then he added what always seemed to me was the real reason...

Why do I think that? Because he couched it in that peculiar high-pitched giggle he always used when being self-effacing. He knew how silly it would sound so some people, but I also knew he meant it. He said he used to have his players wear white as often as the league rules would allow because he thought it made his team look bigger.

Something I heard on the radio a couple of days ago brought that all flooding back.'s excellent Larry Weisman was asked a general "what were your impressions watching practice today?" question, and his answer was not what I expected.

No, "I thought Donovan McNabb looked pretty good." 

No, "overall I thought they looked pretty organized for so early in camp."

Not even a, "Albert Haynesworth is to conditioning and team unity what sand is to personal lubricant and lovemaking."

(It's a blog—indulge me.)

Weisman's response struck me enough that I've been thinking about it all weekend.

He said, "they're a big team."

He was talking, specifically, about the defensive line, and rattled off a few names—Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Anthony Bryant, Howard Green and Haynesworth.

For the record:

NT Maake Kemoeatu, 6-5, 364
NT Anthony Bryant, 6-3, 376
NT Howard Green, 6-2, 365
NT/DE Albert Haynesworth, 6-6, 335
Oh, I know. Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. The NFL dustbin of history is chock full of guys whose lack of drive or talent didn't match their genetics. Andre Johnson, anyone?

So no, I am not projecting the Redskins are about to conquer NFL because they have a collection of large humans on the roster.

But I do like—a lot—the idea that after all these years, when people around the pro football world hear the words Washington Redskins, the words might once again conjure images of well-coached, highly-motivated behemoths slamming into the opposition and giving as good as they get.

I have lamented a lot over the past few years that the Redskins were simply not a match for the league's more physical teams up front. That late in games, when chests were heaving and sweat was flowing and it was less about technique and gameplan than going mano-a-mano against the guy across the line of scrimmage ...the Redskins have simply come up small for too long.

Maybe, just maybe, those days are over.

Projected starting offensive line:

LT Trent Williams, 6-5, 315
LG Derrick Dockery, 6-6, 325
C Casey Rabach, 6-4, 288
RG Artis Hicks, 6-4, 314
RT Jammal Brown, 6-6, 315

New blood backups:

T Selvish Capers, 6-5 310
G Eric Cook, 6-6, 318
Projected starting defensive line:

Adam Carriker, 6-6, 311
Maake Kemoeatu, 6-5, 364
Albert Haynesworth, 6-6, 335

New blood backups:

NT Anthony Bryant, 6-3, 376
NT Howard Green, 6-2, 365
Say what you want about the Redskins' defensive switch from a traditional smashmouth base 4-3 alignment to a aggressive, attacking 3-4.  Sniff if you must about the offensive switch two years ago from a traditional run-heavy, play-action Coryell/Gibbs philosophy to a timing-based, short-pass "West Coast Offense"-derived system.

Fact of the matter is, in 2010 the Redskins may have made an even more seismic change.

If the numbers mean anything at all, the Shanahan/Allen Era may be off to a big start indeed.

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