Monday, February 14, 2011

Redskins position review: Offensive line

Continuing through the position reviews; after this we have only quarterback and special teams still to go (What? Of course we’re doing special teams).

Here’s the links to the previous posts:

Defensive line
Defensive backs
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends

We’ll start at tackle, because we all know that while Mike Shanahan inherited a team full of holes this was probably the biggest. After finding two new starters, the Redskins managed to attain mediocrity. That happens to be an enormous improvement over 2009, but could obviously be a lot better.

Trent Williams, quite simply, played like a rookie. The most visible and recurring bad habit was that, in an attempt to gain himself some margin for error, he would build way too much depth in pass protection, thus allowing the rushers to hit him while he was still backpedaling. Obviously this robbed him of his base strength and allowed him to be easily driven back into the quarterback’s face. He also had his share of troubles holding the edge and locking on at the second level, and frequently seemed confused as to assignments. The flaws seem to be in coachable areas, and the athletic ability is there. I don’t want people to think I’m calling Trent a bust – he has a lot of ability and I’m very glad to have him. And the struggles are probably just the normal learning curve of a talented rookie. But there is a ton of room for improvement.

On the right Jammal Brown was a little better than Trent, but again dramatically better than what we saw out of his position a year earlier. The problem is that a) he was acquired by giving up a mid-round draft pick and b) there was only one year left on his contract and there is a significant chance he will walk as a free agent. While I recognize the urgency of getting the tackle position up to an acceptable NFL level, given the many needs on this team it’s hard to see the draft pick as a worthy investment for one marginally effective year of play.

This brings me to Tony Pashos, who you may remember from the offseason. He was so close to a free agent deal with the Redskins that it was actually reported that he had signed, but then it somehow fell through and he went to Clevelant. There are various possible reasons for why he didn’t sign – maybe he didn’t like the coaches or the system, or didn’t want to live in this area or whatever. But if it was money… well it better not have been money. Redskins fans are well aware of the dangers of careless free agent spending, but when you have an urgent need sometimes a little overspending is in order. And if you assign a cash value to the draft pick then however much we would have needed to have paid may not have seemed like a bad value. Now don’t get me wrong - Pashos is not that great of a tackle. But neither is Brown. And Pashos would still be under contract for next year and would not have cost a draft pick.
If Brown isn’t re-signed, or if a comparable replacement isn’t found then we face the disaster scenario – Stephon Heyer back in a starting role. In fact, I’ve seen enough over the last few years to conclude that if the Redskins hadn’t so badly understaffed their line for so long Heyer might no longer be in the league.

The interior line, of course, is a bit of a mess. The original left-to-right starting three of Derrick Dockery, Casey Rabach, and Artis Hicks sure didn’t last wrong. I’m not sure where to start with Hicks – he lacked the strength to get any natural push, the agility to get the second level blocks mandated by a zone scheme (despite being frequently described as one of the more athletic linemen) – and try as I might I can’t think of a single aspect of line play that he did well. When Will Montgomery took his job the fact that he represented a legitimate upgrade frankly says more about Hicks (more on Montgomery in a bit).

Lichtensteiger and Montgomery are pretty similar players. Both lack strength and are on the team more for their ZBS-friendly quick feet- so both might be better suited at center, and I certainly hope one of them displaces Casey Rabach in that role. Lichtensteiger is the better bet – he seems more adept at adjusting to blitzes and stunts, and as such he may prove to be more capable of making the necessary line calls. And while still not exactly powerful, he maintains his base better than Montgomery and is a bit better at the second level.

In a perfect world, Lichtensteiger would be the 2011 center and Montgomery would be the primary backup at all three interior positions. However it could prove difficult to add two starting-quality guards (and possibly a right tackle as well) in one offseason – so we may just have to live with one of these guys as a guard. In that eventuality I think Lichtensteiger could hold his own better as a guard, so Montgomery would be at center – though such an arrangement does not exactly fill me with confidence.

So to sum up offseason needs on the O-line:
- Re-sign Jammal Brown, or signing and adequate replacement (preferably the former).

- Sign at least one starting-quality guard.

- Move Lichtensteiger to center.

- Keep our fingers crossed that Montgomery, a low round draft pick, or a cheap free agent can fill the other guard job.

- Find a backup swing tackle who is more effective when called upon than Stephon Heyer.

OK… that’s a lot of needs and it’s hard to think all can be addressed in one offseason. I have a feeling that offensive line is still going to be an issue next year, and therefore the offense as a whole will continue to be mediocre at best.

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