Jon Jansen's Loss Could Be Fred Davis' Gain

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Jon Jansen's Loss Could Be Fred Davis' Gain
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Washington Redskins said good-bye to veteran tackle Jon Jansen today. Though not surprising, the news still hits with a shock.

Jansen has been with the team longer than Daniel Snyder has owned it. He's the picture of what's right and what's wrong with how the team has been managed.

The Redskins haven't drafted enough Jon Jansens this decade to refresh the offensive line in an orderly fashion. Without an obvious replacement at right tackle, Washington extended Jansen's contract in 2007, even as his skills were diminishing. Washington must absorb a $6 million cap hit to release Jansen.

This is the time to stop and say, "Thank you, Jon, for your heart, your head, your willingness to play with two broken thumbs. Your name belongs up there on the Redskin Ring of Fame someday."

Stephon Heyer looks to be the man with Jansen gone. But just last January it was a given that Heyer was not starter material. While we count on Heyer's development as a right tackle, Jim Zorn and Joe Bugel may have something else in mind to boost the line, Fred Davis and the two tight end set.

When Joe Gibbs ran the two tight end formation, you knew Washington was in max-protect. If it was a critical third down, the extra tight end was there to block because the O-line wasn't holding off pass pressure.

With Mark Brunell and early Jason Campbell, the defenses stacked eight defenders near the line to stuff the run, or overwhelm pass blocking. The Redskins didn't hurt them enough through the air to break that defense.

The Redskins had two great concerns at the end of last season, receiving and blocking on the right side of the offensive line. Two tight end sets would address those problems for Jim Zorn.

The extra tight end, Fred Davis, could assist blocking of the right tackle while leaving Chris Cooley free to release to a pass route on the opposite side of the field. On running plays, the tight ends, by definition the most mobile of linemen, could reach the second level of the defense to seal the linebacker from the running back.

If Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly fail to develop as pro receivers, two tight ends would give the offense the four receiver set often seen in the West Coast Offense.

This idea works only if Fred Davis is progressing as a pro tight end. That means progress in both blocking and receiving. Whether he lines up on the right or the left depends on which of those two skills he is more adept.

If Davis is a better blocker than receiver, Jim Zorn might line him up on the left, to pair him with Chris Samuels protecting the quarterback's blind side.

If he's a better receiver, Zorn might line Davis up on the right, the Santana Moss side of the field, and leave the defense to wonder whether Davis or Moss will run the slant on a pass pattern.

Chris Cooley is the superior receiver who can play from anywhere. With Davis a receiving threat on the right, Cooley would be free to range against the weakside linebacker, in a 4-3 defense, when the free safety plays deep. That's a match-up the Redskins should like.

If Davis is progressing slowly, he would continue to play behind Cooley on the depth chart. Then the Jim Zorn has to count of Stephon Heyer doing the job at right tackle and hold Cooley in on more blocking assignments.

By definition, Chris Cooley blocking is Chris Cooley wasted.

Washington is pretty hushed, as they should be, on how their first year players are progressing. Fixing the offensive blocking can mean more than the conventional line-up with Heyer at right tackle. It could mean greater use of Fred Davis with Chris Cooley on the field.

Releasing Jansen now might be a tip that Zorn likes what he sees in both Davis and Heyer.   

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