"Jon has been a backup center in college and we have him working at back-up center," Bugel said. "We always want to get the five best guys on the field, so if Rabach got hurt who do you plug in? Right now I'd have to say Jon Jansen."
Casey Rabach had better stay healthy. At best, this is a dubious move or experiment.
Jansen’s college career ended in 1998. He started 50-consecutive games at tackle for Michigan. In his junior and senior years, he was the team's co-captain. It’s possible that he occasionally moved over a couple of slots from time to time and made some snaps in practice. But it’s hard to believe that Lloyd Carr couldn’t comb through his roster of 85 scholarship-players and find a second-string center that would allow his star tackle to focus on playing tackle.
OK, so it may be a stretch to put “college backup center” on Jansen’s resume. But he’s a pro’s pro, right? He can learn a new position, can’t he?
Well, nobody has ever accused Todd Wade of being a slacker, and he was unable to make the transition from tackle to guard last year. The problem wasn’t one of attitude; it was one of altitude. Wade is 6-8 and he literally couldn’t fit into the position. His height prevented him from getting the proper leverage to deal with the massive bodies at defensive tackle and it was a hindrance when he attempted to pull.
Jansen is 6-6, and I took a look around to see how his height compares to that of other centers in the league. In the NFC East, Rabach listed at 6-4, the same as Jamaal Jackson of the Eagles and Andre Gurode of Dallas. Shaun O’Hara of the Giants checked in at 6-3.
I kept on checking around the entire NFL. Of the 32 centers who were listed as first string as of the end of last season on NFL.com’s depth charts, 28 of them were between 6-2 and 6-4. One, Dominic Raiola of the Lions, is shorter than the standard at 6-1. Three others, Mike Flanagan of the Texans, Jeremy Newberry of the Raiders, and John Wade of Tampa Bay are all 6-5.
It can’t be a coincidence that 87.5 percent of the starting centers in the league are within that three-inch range in height. Obviously, that’s the ideal height for working in the middle of the line. It doesn’t mean that anyone outside of that range can’t perform there, but it tells me that it would be considerably more difficult, especially if one is playing the position on a part-time basis.
What is making Bugel and the Redskins consider this option is the numbers game. The team probably will carry nine offensive linemen. The five starters are Jansen, Rabach, Chris Samuels, Pete Kendall, and Randy Thomas. Stephon Heyer, who presumably would step in at right tackle should Jansen have to go snap the ball, is safe. Wade isn’t quite as secure, but there are no other tackles on the roster right now.
On the inside, Chad Reinhart, the Redskins’ third-round draft pick, would have to fall flat on his face to be left off of the roster. There was talk of him being the backup center, but it seems that they have decided to let him focus on playing guard in hopes that he will be able to step in for Kendall in 2009.
Jason Fabini, who filled in for Thomas at right guard most of last year, is the pre-camp favorite to snag the last OL spot. He is a converted tackle, and at 6-7, he’s not a good candidate to work at center either.
Rookie free agents Andrew Crummey and Kerry Brown are long shots to make the team. But as 6-5 guards, one or both could make the practice squad and play center on the scout team.
The Redskins could pluck an experienced center off of the waiver wire, but that would mean that they would lose depth at other positions.
They could keep 10 offensive linemen, but that would hinder depth at other positions. Keep in mind that many teams utilize their long snappers as their backup centers, but Ethan Albright is very much the specialist, and he won’t be snapping to Jason Campbell.
You would think that Bugel would have learned from the Wade experiment, and that he would shy away from trying to squeeze a tall peg into a short hole.
Again, Redskins fans should be hoping for good health for Casey Rabach.