Thursday, November 4, 2010
Hogs do it in the trenches...
Every smart football fan knows the building block to a successful offense is the offensive line. That was one of the reasons I was so excited as a Redskins fan when Mike Shanahan was named our head coach. In Denver he created very good offensive lines who, through the use of zone blocking schemes were quick, strong and agile. Shanahan had lines featuring LT Gary Zimmerman (7 Pro Bowls), Former Hog LG Mark Schlereth (2 Pro Bowls) and C Tom Nalen (5). He also built lines with other dependable players such as Cooper Carlisle, Ben Hamilton, Matt Lepsis, Dan Neil, and he drafted players in recent years like Ryan Clady, Ryan Harris and Chris Kuper.
The Redskins on the other had have largely ignored the offensive line. Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen were brilliant bookend tackles, but the interior line has largely been a rotating door. Randy Thomas was moderately effective for a few years. Pete Kendall was kind of a band aid. Jason Fabini, Todd Wade, etc. etc. Not to mention the fact that when the Redskins drafted Trent Williams he was the first offensive lineman they had drafted in either the first or the second round in ten years.
I didn't expect for Mike Shanahan to fix this unit in one off-season, but the fact remains the line is awful right now, and McNabb has no more time than Jason Campbell did to get set and throw. So how are the Redskins going to set themselves up for the future?
Trent Williams is agile, hostile and mobile. All the things you look for in a tackle you can build around. He'd built a rep in college as being a guy with poor weight room habits, but that hasn't been a problem in his pro career. He's held his own against some of the game's elite pass rushers after getting his feet held to the fire in his first season as a pro. Williams has had a couple injuries and has had a couple growing pains in trying to take his game to the next level, but we appear all set at LT. Hopefully he can lock down this spot for 10 years, which is what every franchise hopes for when they spend a 4th overall pick on a guy.
The play the Redskins have gotten from their left guards this season has ranged from average to miserable. Derrick Dockery was once one of the highest paid guards in the league and has played in every game of his professional career (he started in all but three.) By all accounts he's a decent offensive lineman (Buffalo cut him due to cap space, nothing more) but he's a big man, and is apparently a poor fit for Shanahan's zone blocking scheme (ZBS). He's been replaced by Kory Lichtensteiger, who Shanahan drafted while coaching in Denver. Lichtensteiger has the correct body type for zone blocking, but his play has been a real weak spot on the line. This is definitely a place where the Skins need to spend resources in the coming off-season.
Center is usually a leadership position on the line, and the Skins certainly get that with Rabach. He makes all the calls for the rest of the o-line and he seems to be a respected leader of this team. The problem is, his ability. Rabach seems to have lost a step. Perhaps it's in some part due to the weaknesses at both guard position, but Casey Rabach has not looked good out there. He's 33 years old, but I would expect to see him back next season. According to his scouting report on ESPN.com he has all the skills for the ZBS. "[Rabach] possesses very good first-step quickness and takes excellent angles in the run game." "He is quick at getting to the second level. He shows the ability to adjust to moving targets on the move." and "He shows excellent awareness in pass protection." We will definitely need to upgrade this position sooner, rather than later, but Rabach is a solid player on the line who's started all but one game in the last 6 years.
I'm going to resist making a bad joke about deodorant here. But Artis Hicks stinks! (Doh!) Seriously though, it's not Art's fault, he's not really built for this. He's a tweener tackle/guard and he hasn't played regularly since 2006. He's a reserve player thrust into a starting role where he shouldn't be in the first place. This is a position that was largely ignored when Shanahan came in. Did he expect Big Mike Williams (BMW) to be the everyday guard? The Coach gave Williams one of the first contract extensions of his tenure to Williams after reviewing game film, so it's possible. Unfortunately blood clots discovered near his heart kept BMW out for the season.
Washington gave up either a 3rd or a 4th round pick in 2011 for Brown (depending on which is left after the McNabb trade is completed) and that's a fairly good investment to put in a player. I would say re-signing Brown is a priority, but he's not been terribly effective this season. He's playing through injury and is a former two time pro-bowl left tackle. The switch to the right side is more difficult than you might expect because the footwork is completely backwards. Still, Brown seems to be a good fit in the ZBS. His scouting report claims: "[Brown] is a good-sized tackle with excellent balance, body control and athleticism" and that "He can kick step out to pick up the speed rusher off the edge and still react and adjust to react to counter moves." After spending a decent pick on him, I'd like to see him re-signed to see what he can do healthy. After all, he's only 30.
Washington has two young practice squad players they drafted this last April in Selvish Capers and Erik Cook. They also have young swing tackle Stephon Heyer and Will Montgomery who started 3 games for us last year. Other than that, there's little depth on the line. Something that with the physical nature of the position needs to be there in the event of injury. The free agency situation is uncertain, as are possible off-season cuts with no salary cap in place at this time. The team has other needs but offensive line should be the primary target. With a 1st and a 2nd round pick (for now) available to us in 2011 I hope that Shanahan and Allen use one, or both on a re-incarnation of the hogs.