Three-Way Battle Looms for Redskins Tackle Spot

Rich TandlerSenior Analyst IMay 7, 2009

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 3:  Offensive tackle Jon Jansen #76 of the Washington Redskins blocks against the Atlanta Falcons on December 3, 2006 at FedExField in Landover, Maryland. The Falcons defeated the Redskins 24-14. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The hay is in the barn for the Washington Redskins.

Free agency essentially is over, and the draft is done. They went into the process with holes at defensive tackle, defensive end, guard, linebacker, and right offensive tackle. The hole at offensive tackle remains.

They could have chosen Michael Oher of Mississippi with their first pick in the draft to plug that hole but instead they chose Brian Orakpo. He actually will be used to fill two of those needs, defensive end and linebacker, so it’s hard to argue against that selection.

However, that means that an aging veteran, a third-year player who hasn’t been able to hold on to the job, and a former top-five draft pick who hasn’t played a snap since 2005 will be battling it out for the starting job.

The aging vet is Jon Jansen, 33. The Redskins took him in the second round in 1999 and plugged him in at right tackle from day one. He didn’t miss a start for five years, gaining the nickname The Rock. Then an Achilles’ tear cost him the entire 2004 season, and in ‘06 a broken ankle knocked him for the season before halftime of the season opener.

Jansen lost the starting right tackle job before the season opener, gained it back due to an injury, and kept a tenuous hold on it the rest of the year. His blocking for the run was passable, but speed rushers went by him like cars through the EZ-Pass lane at rush hour.

There was talk of cutting him during the offseason but the $5 million cap hit for doing so was prohibitive. He lives to fight another year.

Stephon Heyer, 25, is in his third year after making the Redskins as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland. As a rookie, he found himself pressed into action much sooner than he, or anyone else, thought after Jansen went down early in the year.

His performance in 2006 was good enough to earn him a hard look last year, and Jim Zorn named him the starter over Jansen at right tackle just before the season opener. A shoulder injury sidelined Heyer, however, and he was in and out of the lineup the rest of the year.

If you tried to predict Mike Williams’ career path when he was drafted fourth overall out of Texas in 2002, you probably would have guessed that in 2009 he’d be a perennial Pro Bowl performer working on a lucrative contract.

Instead, he finds himself in a battle just to make a team and get a veteran minimum deal. After getting cut by Jacksonville early in the 2006 season, Williams, 29, was unable to latch on with another team.

His weight ballooned well north of 400 pounds.

Earlier this year he began to work out with fellow Longhorn alumnus Derrick Dockery. As Williams shed the pounds, he began to get the itch to play again. Dockery recommended him to the Redskins, and he signed just before the draft.

Williams has a shot at making the team as a reserve, but he won’t be the starter unless disaster strikes in the form of injuries or utter ineffectiveness on the part of Jansen and Heyer. The former is a matter of luck; it isn’t completely out of the question that the latter situation will happen.

Since the Redskins want to get younger on the offensive line, Heyer goes into camp as the favorite. But if Jansen is fully healthy, his pride will make him push Heyer hard.

The most likely scenario is that the two of them will end up splitting the starts. And if you have two—or three—starting right tackles, well, you don’t have a right tackle.