You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
The Washington Redskins offensive line has received a lot of props here, or at least the line's potential has. For the past year the mantra here has been "they could develop into one of the elite units in the game". And, a year has come and gone and they have yet to develop into even a very good line, much less one of the best in the business.
It's not that they had a poor year in 2005 by any stretch. Single-season team records aren't set for rushing yards and receiving yards as they were last year with a tissue paper O-line. As a unit Chris Samuels, Derrick Dockery, Casey Rabach, Randy Thomas, and Jon Jansen had their moments, no question about it.
At other moments, however, when they had to get it done they simply did not. In the late going in the regular season game in Tampa Bay they couldn't lead the way for the one more first down that would have clinched a win. When the team went to Kansas City with a chance to go 4-0 nobody could keep Jared Allen off of Brunell all day. The Redskins had a chance to put together a drive for a late field goal to send it into overtime against the Raiders but the line couldn't get it done as Brunell had no time to throw. And although Washington came away with wins anyway the defense had to hang on at the end in Dallas in Week 2 and in Tampa Bay in the playoffs because the line couldn't pound out that clock-killing drive.
They saved the worst for last. In the divisional playoff round they struggled all day against a Seattle defense that was solid but nothing special. And when Ray Brown, who was subbing for an injured Thomas, went out Corey Raymer came in and the line came apart at the seams.
And so we go into the offseason with almost the same line with the same potential. The differences between this year and last involve the backups. Brown has retired and Raymer has been released. They have been replaced by, well, question marks. Tyson Walter and Mike Pucillo, each of whom has a handful of starts in four-year NFL careers, were inked to one-year deals. Kili Lefotu wasn't paying any attention to the draft until the Redskins took him in the seventh round. Add in holdover Jim Molinaro, who has done nothing to earn any trust that he could get the job done if called upon, and you have what appears to be very shallow depth if, indeed, it can be said there is any depth at all. At least a couple of these guys will need to step up and show that the team will be able to withstand any bumps in the road that may come to the starters. As of right now the confidence level in the backups is nearly zero. That needs to change.
And, while we're on this subject, how about coaching somebody up there, Joe Bugel? By this time he had reached Year 3 the first time around he had already pulled Joe Jacoby out of nowhere, saved Jeff Bostic from the scrap heap, and had a great line with versatile backups. It's time to re-learn whatever it is you've forgotten there, Joe, and tool this group into a nasty, dominant unit.
The starters remain the same and they will be unchallenged. Again, they played well enough to earn that right. But they need to be better than well enough. If this team is going to reach its goal of winning it all the line needs to be dominant.
Dockery has to utilize the techniques that the coaches have been trying to instill in him for three years consistently and become the dominating road grader that he is capable of being. Rabach has to handle bigger players lined up on his nose (and not commit dumb holding penalties that cost your team games). Samuels needs to figure out a way to keep Simeon Rice from living in the Redskins' backfield all day. Jansen has to turn his goal of making the Pro Bowl into a reality. It might be unrealistic to ask Thomas to improve on his 2005 performance as he was the team's best lineman, but he needs to repeat that performance, overcoming his broken ankle in the process.
The good news here is that there is no indication that the members of the line are satisfied with their performance last year. They know that the team's offensive struggles in the playoffs weren't as much due to Brunell's knee problems or Clinton Portis wearing down as they were due to their inability to dominate the line of scrimmage. In their final game they saw the NFL's MVP Shaun Alexander get knocked out of the game, literally, in the early going. Seattle's line, however, kept on banging, opening holes for the likes of Maurice Morris and Mack Strong to gain key yardage, and the Seahawks won and advanced.
Had the Redskins been able to do that they might have been able to complete the playoff run and make it to the Super Bowl. There really isn't that much difference between the good units and the great ones; a missed block here, the wrong technique there, not knowing exactly what the man in front of you is going to do in a key situation add up to that difference.
The Redskins Super Bowl hopes rest on the shoulders of the guys up front. They need to come through.
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington in 1937 through the 2001 season. For details on this unique book and to get ordering information, go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com.