Through July, I will be running positional breakdowns for the Washington Redskins. Each assessment will be broken down into four areas: Past Statistics, Experience/Potential, Positional Competition, and Intangibles.
It’s time to take a look at the offensive line for your 2009 Washington Redskins. Offensive line was considered to be one of the weakest links on the team last season, and was most likely the biggest reason that the redskins finished the season 2-6 in the last eight weeks. Many fans and pundits have criticized Vinny Cerrato for largely ignoring offensive linemen in the draft, and last year’s breakdown showed the lack of depth and young, big bodies to throw into a game. How have they improved in the offseason? Let’s check ‘em out.
It’s hard to pinpoint statistics for an offensive line, but the few key areas to examine their performance are QB hurries and sacks against, as well as rushing yards. As far as rushing offense, as we’ve mentioned, the Redskins were a mainstay in the top five for the first half of the season, but as injuries mounted (namely to Chris Samuels and Stephon Heyer), the rushing game struggled. There were points where guys like Jason Fabini filled in and were miserably outmatched by superior defensive fronts, and that was a big indication of poor depth. The line surrendered 38 sacks on the season, good for 10th worst in the league, and only the Steelers and Vikings surrendered more and made the playoffs. They managed to come in 8th in total rushing offense, but this was largely buoyed by inferior opponents in the first half of the season. Passing offense finished 23rd, and I believe this is indicative of the amount of time that the line often provided Campbell.
One might say that the Redskins offensive line is “experienced,” but others just call them old. As far as the projected starters this season, three are on the wrong side of thirty, and only Derrick Dockery (almost 29) and Stephon Heyer (25) could be considered either in their prime or heading into it. Dockery should mesh well with Chris Samuels, as they performed well together for four seasons, but the big starting question lies with durability and with Heyer’s development. As far as durability, age will become an issue. Randy Thomas has the worst injury history of the group, but he managed to start all sixteen games last year. If he can repeat that performance, the line will be helped out a great deal. Heyer seems to have some upside, but he’s been known to lose his mean streak and competitiveness, neither of which you like to see toward the end of a game. If he can’t pull his weight, Mike Williams might have to be called upon, which is something NONE of us really wants. Williams is a former no. 1 pick, but his work ethic cannot be relied upon week-in and week-out. As far as the other top reserves, the Redskins expect Chad Rinehart to continue to develop, although he didn’t look good last season to most people that watched him. They are also counting on former Carolina starter and guard/tackle Jeremy Bridges to fill in whenever needed. The interesting player to watch will be Edwin Williams, a…take a guess…undrafted rookie out of Maryland. Williams is expected to compete for a roster spot and learn the ropes under Rabach.
Derrick Dockery must step up if the Redskins O-Line is going to have a successful season.
As stated before, the starters should be (from left to right) Samuels, Dockery, Rabach, Thomas, and Heyer. If Dockery or Heyer struggles in camp, Bridges might be a possibility to replace either one of them in the starting lineup. Again, the most intriguing possibility here is that Williams earns a roster spot and can be groomed to take over the center position in the next season or two. That would be ideal because of the lack of draft picks over the last several seasons.
The big benefit of having an older offensive line is the extra leadership that they provide. Randy Thomas is one of the biggest voices in the locker room, and Samuels is the longest tenured Redskin with the departure of Jon Jansen. They need to step up in the development of guys like Williams, Heyer and Rinehart to benefit the team not only for the future, but in the event of an injury. Dockery is a good fit in the locker room and on his side of the line, so his addition could be a big unforeseen bonus. He’s anxious to prove that we shouldn’t have let him walk to Buffalo, but he is also very happy to be back with his old linemates. However, there is a big loss to consider within this group. While Jon Jansen was on the tail end of his effectiveness (mostly due to injuries if you ask me), he was a big “team” guy and a locker room leader. Offensive lines thrive on their relationships with one another, and Jansen was one of the most well-liked players on the team. It did surprise me a little bit when he complained so much about his benching, but I attribute that more to his competitiveness and less to being whiney. He battled through multiple injuries, and even played with two broken thumbs for an entire season. Jansen was a big contributor and will be missed more than people realize and it will be very difficult to replace that kind of heart.
The offensive line will be very touch-and-go for the Redskins this season. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see another fast start out of them with a tail-off in November and December like last season, but as I’ve stated, that will be entirely due to age and depth. Vinny really needs to take the next draft to concentrate on the offensive line exclusively, or he won’t have any guys around to develop new picks in a couple years. I expect that Jason Campbell will find himself under duress for a good part of the season, but I also think that one of the unsung guys will step up and show a lot of improvement this year. Dockery will be a big boost, and I think the depth is a little better than last year, so they should be ok. If they have a good season, the Redskins could have a top 10 offense, but if they struggle, they’ll find themselves at the back of the pack.