With an infusion of talent at the offensive skill positions this offseason, the Washington Redskins made significant strides toward becoming a feared offense but still have plenty of work to do up front.
In two years under Mike Shanahan the Redskins have found a trio of running backs, a franchise quarterback and a few playmaking wide receivers, but haven't quite been able to put together a solid offensive line.
Trent Williams was drafted fourth overall in 2010, but no other high round picks have been invested in the offensive line. This year's third-rounder Josh LeRibeus is the only other offensive lineman Shanahan has taken before the fifth round.
Shanahan does employ a Zone Blocking Scheme, which calls for more athletic lineman than just brute strength. Fortunately, the type of lineman that fit this system is usually undervalued by other teams and serviceable starters can be found in later rounds.
The problem with Washington's roster was that there were too many holes to fill to devote so much attention to the offensive line, and so solutions had to be found elsewhere.
In 2010 the Redskins re-signed center Will Montgomery, signed left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and traded a third-round pick to New Orleans for right tackle Jammal Brown. The next year they signed right guard Chris Chester in free agency. Along with Williams, that group was projected to start for at least the next year.
According to Pro Football Focus the Redskins had the 27th-ranked offensive line last year, with Brown and Chester receiving the worst grades. Granted the injury to Lichtensteiger and the suspension to Williams were huge factors in the decline of the offensive line last year, but the right side of the line was weak for most of the season.
In his second year, Chester should be better adjusted, but there's no guarantee that he will improve over last year. He is still the most solid option at that position, but rookies Adam Gettis and LeRibeus have picked things up well in camp so far and could challenge him later.
Brown has reportedly re-injured his hip and will miss at least the preseason. Had the Redskins not been hit with a $36 million cap penalty this offseason, it's safe to say he would not be on the team right now. The coaches had hoped Brown could recover from his hip injury and return to Pro Bowl form but that seems unlikely.
With no starting right tackle, that leaves only journeyman Tyler Polumbus, undrafted free agent Willie Smith and rookie Tom Compton to battle for the job. Polumbus looks to be the starter, but Smith showed promise in a few starts at left tackle last year going up against Jared Allen, Trent Cole and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Montgomery has been decent at center and doesn't make very many mistakes, but he probably won't be anything more than average. LeRibeus took some snaps at center during camp, but aside from him, there isn't much depth at the position.
Lichtensteiger tore his MCL and ACL early last season and was lost for the year. He originally was ready for camp, but a setback pushed his timetable for return to the season opener. If he still can't go, Maurice Hurt will likely start in his place.
Hurt started eight games last year, but was never anything special. He has the ability to fill in for Lichtensteiger, but he isn't nearly as good in the run game or in pass protection.
Which Redskins rookie has the best chance to contribute this season?
Luckily for the Redskins, the bright spot on this line appears to be at left tackle with Trent Williams.
The first two years of his career were marred by inconsistency but last year's four-game suspension appears to have lit a fire under Williams. So far he has been the most dominant player on the team in training camp and doesn't show signs of letting up.
If Williams can anchor Robert Griffin III's blind side, he'll have a chance to use his legs to take some of the pressure off the offensive lineman and allow the Redskins to get through the season okay. There will be a ton of pressure on Griffin, but at this point there isn't much Washington can do to help his protection.
Overall, if healthy, this group really isn't all that bad. The problem is that they aren't healthy. Washington will likely have to rely on backups and rookie starters this year as teams try to take advantage of the weak offensive line. Right tackle is the biggest problem, but things probably won't be fixed until after next year's draft.
Either LeRibeus or Gettis could step up and help the interior of the line, but if that doesn't happen, RGIII is in trouble this year; especially against some tough NFC East and AFC North defenses.