2011 Washington Redskins: What Can Be Done to Improve the Offensive Line?
Redskins fans everywhere rejoiced when the Redskins selected Trent Williams fourth-overall in the 2010, after not selecting an offensive linemen in the first round since Chris Samuels was drafted in 2000.
The Redskins offensive line has been one of the most regularly maligned parts of the team for a long time. Most people will tell you that it doesn't matter who the quarterback is, no one could succeed behind the Redskins offensive line—a hodgepodge of free agents that couldn't cut it with other teams and late-round busts who somehow made it it to the starting roster.
For a team that was once home to the legendary Hogs, bad offensive line play seems almost like blasphemy. But much has changed since then, and the Redskins have struggled for years. A lot of that struggle could be directly attributed to the offensive line.
A switch from Joe Gibbs more power-based scheme to the West Coast Offense Jim Zorn tried to install didn't help matters. Mike Shanahan's biggest task upon becoming the Redskins head coach, in many people's eyes, was rebuilding the offensive line.
The sad part? 2010 might've been an above-average year for the o-line, as compared to the past two seasons.
No one is going to claim that it was good, but at times it was at least decent, and seemed to finally start to come together more towards the end of the season as guys got healthier and more comfortable. Still, the Redskins offensive line must get better if they want to have any amount of success going forward, especially if they draft a new young quarterback and develop him. Quarterbacks who are drafted and put behind bad offensive lines are usually quarterbacks who are ruined in their first year.
Just ask Rex Grossman.
With that in mind, let's take a look at who the Redskins have on their offensive line, and how they can improve.
As I mentioned before, fans everywhere collectively rejoiced when Trent Williams was drafted with the Redskins first-round pick in 2010. Tough, mean and athletic, Williams had some big shoes to fill, as he was taking the place of Chris Samuels.
Trent Williams started the season off well and played like a franchise left tackle. Unfortunately, he got bogged down with a couple nagging injuries (shoulder and knee) that limited him somewhat, and his performance suffered a little bit. That being said, there was doubt that when Trent Williams was in the game, the offensive line performed better as a whole.
The move for some to discredit Williams already because didn't have a Pro Bowl season in his rookie year (how many left tackles do?) has been one of the more annoying issues to deal with in the fanbase. As I said, Williams was a big time part of the offensive line, the entire line suffered when he was in the game, and a majority of the time he was in the game, he did very well.
If there is an area that Williams needs to work on, it's dealing with speed rushers, as he tends to underestimate them and allows them to get behind him too fast. Still, for all intents and purposes, Trent was well worth the draft pick the Redskins spent on him, and has been called one of the greatest athletes Coach Shanahan has been around.
For the man who drafted a Pro Bowl left tackle in Ryan Clady and has been around some of the best offensive linemen in the business, that's quite the compliment.
Chances are, if you're not sold on Trent, it's because you've seen a defender bust through the left side of the offensive line on his way to the quarterback. Usually, this has less to do with Trent, and more to do with the man that played guard beside him, Kory Lichtensteiger.
Lichtensteiger was drafted by Mike Shanahan in 2008 while he played for the Broncos. He was released in 2009 after Shanahan was fired and was replaced by Josh McDaniels, and spent a season away from football before signing with the Redskins in January of 2010.
Lichtensteiger and Casey Rabach battled for the starting center job throughout pre-season and even in the first two games, but he was ultimately bumped inside to left guard. Lichtensteiger struggled throughout most of the season starting in place of Derrick Dockery, a fan favorite who was more at home in Joe Gibbs power scheme than in Mike Shanahan's Zone Blocking scheme.
It seemed he was a better fit at center, as he was largely overmatched as a guard. He was regularly pushed back and overpowered in pass protection. He did okay in run blocking, but not enough to make him a noticeable improvement over Dockery, even if he did struggle in the scheme. He did get better as the season went on (as did the rest of the line), but he didn't prove himself to be a front-line starter at left guard.
It seems that Lichtensteiger would be a better fit at center, as he performed well at the position during pre-season. But even when injuries deemed Casey Rabach unable to play, Kory still didn't play center; that job instead went to Will Montgomery.
The jury is out on what position Kory will or can play, but at this point, he seems to be better at center than he was at guard, even though there appear to be question marks about his play at center.
Over the course of the season, poor play by Artis Hicks eventually forced Hicks out of the starting lineup and thrust Montgomery into the role of starter. In Montgomery's first game as a starter at right guard, he had to move inside to play center as offensive linemen went down left and right on the bad turf of the Tennessee Titans.
Montgomery was a notable improvement over Hicks at the position and provided some stability to an offensive line that was still altogether shaky through most of the season. He found himself playing center twice; once during the aforementioned Titans game, and once in the final game of the season, and again, looked better than the starter Casey Rabach.
In most cases, Montgomery wouldn't be a starter, but at times like these, you need linemen who are versatile and Montgomery played better than a lot of the other options available. Unless the Redskins find a lot of offensive line depth, it wouldn't be wise to count out Montgomery.
There's probably a reason Artis Hicks doesn't have a picture in his Redskins uniform. He was largely ineffective throughout most of the season and didn't do a whole lot to prove himself worth of starting. Hicks ended up losing his job to Will Montgomery and wouldn't see much action for the rest of the season.
Hicks is an okay depth guard, but I wouldn't expect him to become a starter again.
The Other Offensive Linemen
The rest of the offensive line prospects are a hodgepodge of late-round draft choices and people added to the practice squad throughout the season.
Selvish Capers and Eric Cook are probably the only noteworthy offensive linemen amongst them. Both linemen were picked up in the seventh round in 2010. Eric Cook was on the active roster for a majority of the season but was never actually active for any of the games. Capers spent all of 2010 on the practice squad. Both have been described as solid fits for the Zone Blocking Scheme, but only time will tell if these late-round picks will ever amount to anything.
As Good as Resigned: Jammal Brown
People tend to forget that the Redskins didn't spend three draft picks just to bring Donovan McNabb to Washington. Rather, McNabb was involved in a three-way trade, and the Redskins also got a former Pro Bowler in Jammal Brown.
Jammal Brown was previously one of the best left tackles in the game, but an injury sidelined him in 2009. He was forced to watch his teammates win the Super Bowl on the sidelines without him, and with the play of Jeremy Bushrod, Brown was seen as expendable, and was traded to Washington.
Brown was still dealing with his injury and adjusting to playing on the right side of the line through most of the season. He struggled and was banged up in a couple games, but seemed to turn a corner as the season came to an end. Scar tissue from the injury his sustained in his leg finally broke up, and he really came on towards the middle of the year.
Brown is scheduled to be a free agent, but the Redskins would be wise to re-sign him. He's gotten over the injury hump and is capable of being a solid right tackle in a relatively weak class when it comes to free agent offensive linemen and tackles available in the draft that fit the scheme. Brown may seek to play for more money as a left tackle, but at age 30, some teams may be wary to sign him over a younger option, even more so when you consider the down year he had, regardless of the injury.
Brown is a good fit at the position, can be a leader and a role model on a line that will likely get younger and will be easy to sign for the right price, after he tests the waters of free agency.
Noteable Free Agents: Ryan Harris
As I said before, the class of free agent tackles and linemen in general is thin this season. This is because teams don't really like letting go of their good tackles, while they have no problem letting go of the bad ones.
Right now, the Broncos have placed a tender on right tackle Ryan Harris, but depending on how litigation and the CBA situation plays out, it's likely he'll become an unrestricted free agent. Harris is a former draft pick of Coach Shanahan, which makes him an ideal fit in the scheme of their running. Nagging injuries hurts some of his effectiveness, but in the event Jammal Brown doesn't resign, Harris would be a more than adequate edition to the right side of the line.
Possible Draft Selections: G/C, Mike Pouncey
In pretty much every mock draft I've done, I've had the Redskins selecting Mike Pouncey at some point during the draft. Big, a little nasty, and athletic, Pouncey seems to be a perfect fit for the scheme the Redskins run. And as a team that needs improvement at guard and at center, Pouncey's versatility would undoubtedly be a huge asset.
Pouncey isn't his brother Maurkice, and he projects better as a guard than a center; some of Pouncey's snaps in the shotgun have a tendency to be really bad. Still, putting Pouncey on the line would be an automatic upgrade to a line that is slowly but surely improving.
G/C, Stefen Wisniewski
Stefen Wisniewski is another versatile offensive lineman coming out of Penn State. Wisniewski comes from a football family (his uncle Steve Wisniewski is another Penn Stater who went on to become an eight-time Pro Bowler), is extremely intelligent (he's the first Penn State student-athlete to be named an ESPN Academic All-American three times), and once again, is an absolute, day-one starter on a team that needs them.
He gets good push against the run and only needs to work on his strength a little, but everyone gets stronger in the NFL. In a dream world, the Redskins would somehow escape the draft with Pouncey and Wisniewski, but either guy would be a solid pick for the scheme.
T, Tyron Smith
In recent weeks, talk of the Redskins drafting this talented USC tackle have begun to heat up. While taking him at 10 is still a stretch, it wouldn't be a horrible pick at all, as Smith draws comparisons to Trent Williams and actually wins out in a few of the categories.
Smith mainly played at right tackle at USC, and projects as a right tackle with the potential to move to left tackle on the next level. He's athletic with good feet and (like pretty much everyone) needs to work on his strength a little on the next level. But he's a young guy with a tremendous upside and allows the Redskins to have a couple options at tackle in their back pocket.
T, Nate Solder
Solder is a tall, athletic tackle coming out of the University of Colorado, who seems to me like he'd be a better fit for a zone-blocking scheme than anything else. Solder projects as a potential starting left tackle, but he still has a couple question marks about his game, and would seem to have more ability to be a right tackle right now than anything.
Though he's undoubtedly an athlete, he, probably more than the others, has to work on his strength and on his nastiness (see: Trent Williams seemingly getting in a fight on every play, The Hogs), along with working on some of his pass and run blocking. But Solder is another tackle who has some big time upside if the team were to take a chance on him.
Analysis: Battles Are Won in the Trenches and the Redskins Are Rebuilding Theirs
As has become a running theme when it comes to talking about the Redskins, the team probably has a little more talent on their offensive line than anyone wants to admit. That being said, no one is going to be fooled into thinking that the offensive line doesn't need more help.
Most of the Redskins problems came from interior pressure, particularly on the left side of the line. Add a nicked up rookie left tackle and a still recovering veteran right tackle, and it's no wonder the Redskins needed help.
Still, the line got better as the season went on, and became more consistent with time. They had some moments of straight up brilliance—see the Tampa Bay game for an example, as the offensive line opened up some huge holes for Ryan Torain's record breaking first half.
Still, the Redskins need to address who will be the starting center in the next season, and would be wise to add guards at some point in the draft, if only for depth. There's also some practice squad talent that may be worth taking a look at.
It still has a way to go, but the offensive line does look to be turning around, and any improvement over the 2010 season will still be a vast improvement.