Going deep on the soul of D.C. sports

Grading the Redskins' offensive line

January 10, 2011 - 08:47 AM
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Inconsistency, injuries and players playing out of position were a common theme along the Redskins' offensive line. (Photo: Heather Farrell)

The Washington Redskins’ players spent Wildcard Weekend very similarly to the way you did: sitting at home and watching, and their second week of offseason vacation starts today. The coaches, meanwhile, remain hunkered down at Redskins Park, while conducting their second straight week of evaluations of individual and unit performances. Let’s do the same.

We’ve gone over the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. Today we’ll wrap up that side of the ball by taking a look at the offensive line before shifting our attention to the defense.

Before this season, if you mentioned Mike Shanahan, thoughts of zone blocking schemes and offensive lines effectively paving the way for dominant running games probably would have come to mind.

Continuing with the theme that plagued just about every other Redskins unit, inconsistency was the biggest problem for the line. This season, the O-line gave up 46 sacks, which was the fifth-highest total in the league, and the frequent blown assignments were also a big reason for Washington’s passing and rushing attacks ranking among the league’s worst.

There were some bright spots along the line, and a few strong games out of the unit. But once again, they couldn’t bring it week in and week out. Here’s a look at the line position by position followed by an overall grade:

LT Trent Williams --
The Redskins did accomplish at least one thing this past year and that was finding the cornerstone to their line for years to come. The rookie out of Oklahoma wasn’t perfect by any means, but he worked hard from Day 1, studied his opponents well, and most of the time was able to perform at a high level. In Week 1, Williams quickly proved his worth, doing a commendable job against Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware. He was having another solid outing in Week 2 against Houston before spraining his knee with roughly 90 seconds left in regulation. Without Williams, the Redskins couldn’t hold off the pass-rush in overtime and lost. Good footwork and athleticism were Williams’ top weapons this past season. During the offseason he needs to improve his overall strength and physicality. Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan were both pleased with Williams’ overall play this past season, but they both remarked that with about four or five games left in the season, he hit the rookie wall and wasn’t as effective. Kyle Shanahan said Williams also needed to learn to be a true professional, noting that the rookie struggled in meetings at times. Williams himself said consistency is the biggest area he can improve in. “I won’t be satisfied until I can feel like I left it all on the field every play of every game,” he said. “Obviously that wasn’t the case this year.

LG Kory Lichtensteiger/Derrick Dockery
-- Dockery opened the year as the Redskins’ starting left guard, but by Week 3 at St. Louis, he had been replaced by Lichtensteiger and appeared in only two more games the rest of the season. Shanahan at the time said that Dockery needed to improved the way he practiced, but the guard himself believed he was working hard. The problem was Dockery is better as a straight ahead mauler and didn’t possess the quickness and solid enough footwork needed to hit his assignments in the zone blocking scheme. He likely will be gone next season. … Lichtensteiger had the quickness and footwork for the scheme‘s run-blocking, but his problem he wasn’t strong enough or big enough to hold off opponents. Lichtensteiger struggled mightily in pass protection early on but got slightly better as the season progressed. However, he still had some breakdowns here and there and probably would be better suited at his natural position of center.

C Casey Rabach -
- Redskins coaches value Rabach’s knowledge and leadership skills, and he does a good job of identifying assignments at the line and calling out to his fellow linemen which blitzers are coming and from which direction. But this season Rabach got knocked back by defenders and into the path of his quarterback. That would collapse the pocket and give up a hurry or a blitz. Will Montgomery, like Lichtensteiger, was a center playing guard. Montgomery did a good job at center when Rabach went down against Tennessee, and Rabach could have some competition for his job next season.

RG Artis Hicks/Will Montgomery --
Hicks was signed in the offseason to play right tackle, but then guard Mike Williams was lost for the season to blood clots near his heart. Hicks had played guard before in his career, so moving him over one spot was the logical decision, and Jammal Brown was acquired to play right tackle. Hicks had his ups and downs at guard and also dealt with injury, missing the Tennessee game, returned against Minnesota but was replaced in-game by Montgomery. Hicks said at the end of the season that his problem was that he allowed himself to get derailed mentally and never was able to break out of the funk. … Montgomery started the final six games of the season and did a solid job at right guard. Despite being slightly undersized at 6-foot-3, 307 pounds, the Virginia Tech product possesses good strength and mobility, so all of the lateral movement of the zone blocking scheme’s running plays weren’t a problem for him. There were times in pass protection, however, that Montgomery got shoved back into the pocket by pass-rushers.

RT Jammal Brown/Stephon Heyer -- The Redskins last summer gave up what will be a third-round pick in this year’s draft to acquire the two-time Pro Bowl selection and former first-round pick from the New Orleans Saints. Brown was out of football in 2009 while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in left his hip. Brown was a left tackle in New Orleans, and the Redskins thought he could make the transition to right tackle. But his hip recovery went slower than expected, and he struggled, especially because at right tackle, he had to push off of his bad hip. With Brown hobbled early in the season, coaches began rotating him with Stephon Heyer. Brown finally had a break through midway through the season and was told by doctors that he must’ve broken through the scar tissue that was limiting his movements. Brown made improvements as the season drew to an end and he said he wished he had another eight games to play on a much-improved hip so he could prove his worth to the Redskins and other teams that might be interested in his services as a free agent this spring. … Heyer also struggled, but not because of injury. He filled in at left tackle as well this season and was always pretty solid in run blocking, but struggled in pass protection. He actually had his most solid outing while pressed into duty at right guard.

Overall grade -- D

The Redskins simply had too many bad fits or injuries to perform at a high level on a consistent basis. They routinely struggled to provide both Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman with enough time to throw and gave up nearly three sacks a game. And because they struggled to open up holes, Washington couldn’t always establish a run game, which would’ve in turn helped make the passing game more effective. The main bright spots were Williams and Montgomery.

An upgrade is certainly coming to this unit. The Redskins this offseason need to add a more solid option at left guard, and make a decision at center. Do they keep Rabach, who wasn’t as effective this year as in seasons past? Do they move Lichtensteiger or Montgomery to center instead? Hicks is under contract for next season as well, but will have to show in offseason workouts that he is capable of rebounding this year. Brown has said he would like to re-sign with Washington, and given that they gave up a high draft pick for him, it would be a big loss for Washington not to retain him. The one aspect that could complicate things there is the fact that Brown sees himself as a more natural left tackle, and when asked if an offer to start at left tackle from another team would be more attractive than returning to the Redskins to play right tackle, he admitted it might be nice to return to his old position, but that he’d have to talk to his agent. The Redskins also have seventh-rounders Erik Cook (a guard/center) and Selvish Capers (tackle) as well as Xavier Fulton, who finished the year on the practice squad, to evaluate for the 2011 season.

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  1. Beltwayboy Beltwayboy

    BeltwayBoy Sports

    Jan 10, 2011 - 12:37:29 PM

    The O-Line was an afterthought around here for so many years and it must get proper attention this off season. The line was terrible last year and needs to be overhauled. I feel the same way about the defensive line as well!

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