Monday, August 15, 2011

Redskins position preview: Offensive line

Only a few more positions to go. The original (and out of date) projection of the offensive line depth chart was this:

Offensive Line
Starting tackles: Trent Williams, Jammal Brown
Starting guards: Kory Lichtensteiger, Chris Chester
Center: Will Montgomery
Backup OT/OGs: Artis Hicks, Selvish Capers
Backup C/G: Eric Cook 
Backup OT: Willie Smith 
Notable cuts: Maurice Hurt

For the starting lineup, the coaches are clearly relying mostly on natural improvement from holdover players.  It's actually not an unreasonable hope. Trent Williams struggled as a rookie, but that's to be expected. He should get better simply from experience. And Brown was pretty underwhelming but he did better as the year wore on and he recovered from lingering injuries. So the tackle position should be somewhat solidified. 
 The changes to the interior line are also modest yet significant.  Last year all three interior positions were staffed by guys who would be better off as centers. And the guy at center, Casey Rabach, just wasn't that good at it. So Rabach was shown the door and Chris Chester was brought in to take over the right guard spot. He's not a big name, but he's a starting quality player who is a good fit for the offense and as such is an immediate upgrade.  That moves Montgomery into the center spot, where his weak run blocking should be less of a problem (because the center will most often be getting help from one of the guards). Lichtensteiger could still be a problem at LG. I had spent the offseason hoping the Redskins could sign two starting guards rather than one, thus moving Lichtensteiger to center and Montgomery to to the bench. Nonetheless he got steadily better over the course of 2010, so he continues the pattern of expected incremental improvement all along the line.

The backups have to be changed completely from my original projections.

At tackle, it was well past time to move on from Stephon Heyer (who has since signed with Oakland). But the only remaining viable veteran option was Artis Hicks, who performed poorly at guard last year so I was terrified by the thought of him having to step in at tackle.  That's why the late signing of Sean Locklear to be the backup swing tackle was probably the most important upgrade to the line.  He may be a poor run blocker, but if he was perfect he wouldn't be sitting around waiting to take a contract as a backup. But he can pass protect well and has played both right and left tackle, so if Trent of Jammal Brown goes down we won't be forced to limit the passing game to three step drops just to keep the quarterback alive.

That means Artis Hicks is now the primary backup for all three interior spots. That still doesn't inspire optimism, but the farther away he is from tackle the better.

And who's behind Locklear and Hicks as the very deep (probably inactive on game day type of deep) backups? Second year player Eric Cook is another interior guy who has a chance to stick, if he can overcome the hurdle of being 6'8".  Meanwhile, according to all the reporters at camp, Selvish Capers is doing his best to play his way out of the "versatile developmental prospect" role. When we drafted Maurice Hurt I had said that unless he could play some center he probably had little chance to survive, because you can't be a backup lineman without positional versatility. But, like Capers, he has been working at both guard and tackle. If he can pull it off, he just may be able to grab a roster spot ahead of Capers and undrafted project rookie Willie Smith.

Previous position previews: Defensive line, linebackers, secondary, quarterbacks, receive

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