July 11, 2009

Redskins Roster Review: Offensive Line

If the Washington Redskins want to improve upon a mediocre 8-8 2008 campaign then they’ll need to start up front with the offensive line.

Strong play in the trenches was rarely witnessed last year as the Redskins’ collection of blockers proved too old and injury prone.

The line gave up 38 sacks, which tied for the fourth most in the NFL last season. That number must be reduced if the ‘Skins want to sniff the play-offs.

As far as run blocking is concerned, the chemistry of the offensive line really makes the going easier for Clinton Portis, but the running game regressed as the 2008 season wore on partly due to breakdowns in the blocking scheme.

The new addition to the starting offensive line is left guard Derrick Dockery. Dockery was originally a Redskin, but left for Buffalo as a free agent several years ago. He now returns after two disappointing year with the Bills.

Dockery brings a massive presence to the left side and is a great pulling guard. He fits the Redskins system well and is definitely an upgrade over Pete Kendall from last year. The main question will be whether or not he can rebound from his performance in Buffalo. He has played here before with many of the same guys on the line so expect him to came back strong.

Next to Dockery is pro bowl left tackle, Chris Samuels. Samuels is a consistent pass blocker who needs little help against most pass rushers. However, he sometimes suffers from mental lapses and does struggle when lining up against premier pass rushers.

Samuels is probably the Redskins steadiest player on the o-line and should love seeing Dockery next to him again. Together they form a strong left side that will be the core of the unit.

Casey Rabach will anchor the line at center as he has for the past four seasons. Rabach is a smart player who has only missed one game during his tenure as a Redskin. However in certain games, he was shaky when it came to providing a a solid push in the run game.

The Redskins struggled to win the trench battles along the interior line last year and Rabach was one of the players at fault. He lacked the leverage to keep big defensive tackles out of the backfield and it hurt the ground game badly at times.

This offseason, coaches have commented that Rabach looks very impressive and really he brings a lot to the table already. He can read defenses with best of them and is usually a solid blocker. It’s just those few times a game where he is badly beaten that downgrades his overall performance.

Lining up at right guard is Randy Thomas who was acquired from the Jets in 2003 has been arguably the best blocker on the team when healthy, but he has suffered two major injuries since 2005 and is 33 years old.

Thomas is aging and that will be a concern, but he did start in all 16 games last season and is now two years removed from the torn triceps he suffered in the 2007 campaign. If Thomas can play at 100% expect the Redskins to have a strong ground game between the tackles.

Thomas is a force as a pulling guard, and when he is at full go the running game benefits. Portis loves to run behind Thomas and with Dockery in the mix, the ‘Skins have a better interior line to employ a power running game on either side of the ball.

It is imperative the Redskins see strong play from the guard positions. Should Thomas and Dockery play like they did in 2005 when it was rare to see a bad day on the ground, expect the going to be that much easier offensively. Good performances from those two will also take some pressure off of Rabach in the middle.

The starter at right tackle is a mystery right now. Jon Jansen was cut after spending his entire career with Washington. His departure leaves three choices at RT: Stephon Heyer, Jeremy Bridges, and Mike Williams.

Heyer, an undrafted free agent out of Maryland in 2007, has played with the Redskins for two seasons. In his rookie season, Heyer stepped up to the task as he started at RT for 15 games and held his own against the likes of Jason Taylor and Michael Strahan. Last year he won the starting job over Jansen, but lost it to injury and never got back to form.

Heyer needs work in the run game, but he really impressed in pass protection in 2007. He has reportedly improved his conditioning and his technique will improve with time. Offensive line coach Joe Bugel often raves about Heyer, and his experience with the ‘Skins puts him on the inside track for the starting RT spot.

Bridges played with Carolina last year and has experience at tackle and guard. I would doubt he earns a starting role, but he will be a valuable backup because of his versatility.

Williams is a former first round pick from Texas where he played with Dockery. He proved to be a bust during his first stint in the NFL in which he played for Buffalo and Jacksonville.

Injuries and weight problems contributed to his failure, but the real reason according to reports, was that Williams lacked the work ethic necessary to play professional football.

Williams was out of football when Dockery persuaded the ‘Skins to give him a shot. He is working his way down to a reasonable playing weight in hopes of competing for the right tackle spot.

Heyer has the upper hand in this battle, but his biggest challenger is undoubtedly Williams. If Williams can push himself and play with some passion, he will make the team at least as a backup. He has the size to dominate on the line and the skills are there. It’s simply a matter of him preparing for the rigors of a full season.

The backup offensive linemen are a concern. Rabach, Thomas, and Samuels are all over 30, and so a lack of quality depth means they will have to play at an extremely high level.

Chad Rinehart was drafted last year to play guard and he flopped in his rookie campaign. Despite all the injuries to the line in 2008, Rinehart didn’t even dress for a single game, which coaches attributed to his inability to adapt to the professional level. In year two, Rinehart is a work in progress and we won’t see how far he has come along until the preseason begins.

Devin Clark saw some action last year late in the season after playing with the practice squad. He played some tackle, but his role is uncertain as of now.

The same can be said for D’Anthony Batiste, Rueben Riley, Will Montgomery, Scott Burley, and Edwin Williams. None of these players has seen game action with ‘Skins and both Burley and Williams are rookies. Like Heyer, Burley and Williams went undrafted out of Maryland. Burley played both left and right tackle for the the Terps while Williams played center.

Williams might end up being quite a find for the Redskins who are in need of a backup center. Williams played in all 13 games last year for Maryland and was a first team All-ACC selection.

Overall Grade: C+

This year’s edition of Bugel’s “Dirtbags” is nothing to write home about. The pass protection will be a real concern on the right side and if Thomas struggles the running game will only see consistent success from the left. The addition of Dockery was a good move as he should bring his game back to the level he played at in 2005.

Even if everyone stays healthy this won’t be a great offensive line. They don’t match up in the trenches against New York, Dallas, or Philly which is a big problem. The division has such talent defensively that it will be tough for the Redskins O-line to take the pounding week in and week out. They are just too old and feature almost no quality depth.

However, the running game will see a boost. Having Dockery and Thomas pulling out in front of a back opens up the ground game. If that takes off, then ‘Skins might be able to really get into a rhythm and make the most of Portis’ efforts.

Next we move onto the defense…

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