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Redskins Roundtable: Is the O-Line Set?

Posted May 18, 2011

Matt Terl and Gary Fitzgerald are joined once again by ESPN 980's Chris Russell at the Roundtable. This week: Can the Redskins' offensive line get better as is or is an upgrade in order?

Welcome to Redskins Roundtable, in which managing editor Gary Fitzgerald, senior writer and team blogger Matt Terl and ESPN 980's Chris Russell discuss and debate a Redskins topic. For more from Matt, visit the Redskins Blog. For more from Chris, visit ESPN 980's Redskins Portal.

Question: Can the Redskins' offensive line get better as is or does the starting five need to be upgraded?

GARY: First of all, right tackle needs to be addressed. Is Jammal Brown going to be back? He showed improvement late last season, according to coaches, and he should be at full health now that he is two years removed from his hip surgery.

Assuming Brown is back, I believe the lineup will likely be Trent Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger on the left side, Casey Rabach at center, and Will Montgomery and Brown on the right side.

I love the left side with Williams and Lichtensteiger. Williams showed plenty of potential as a rookie starter last year and Lichtensteiger made steady progress through the season as well. I say lock them in on the left side for the next 5-6 years.

I think Rabach is fine for another year, but the team needs a succession plan in place. Long-term candidates could be Lichtensteiger or Montgomery, or maybe 2010 seventh-rounder Erik Cook.

The right side is a question mark, in my mind. I'd like to see Montgomery, the Centreville, Va., product, get an opportunity to prove he's an NFL starter -- given his size and skill set, he could be a good fit for Mike Shanahan's offense -- but I would want another starting-caliber option at the position. Artis Hicks? He's capable, but I don't think he's a long-term solution.


CHRIS: Ahh, the Redskins offensive line. I guess the zone blocking offense, with more bootlegs, wasn't the magic elixir that Mike and Kyle Shanahan were hoping for. Not at least during 2010.

Call me crazy (and I wonder about that sometimes myself), but I DO THINK the Redskins offensive line can get better this year with the talent that is currently under contract for 2011.

Obviously, as Gary mentioned -- if Jammal Brown comes back it makes my argument a little bit stronger -- but either way, I think individuals will improve in year two of the system.

The bottom line is it starts with Trent Williams. Williams was good, but not great in all-areas of his game last year, taking some costly penalties and getting beat at times. Again, that's going to happen when you are a left-tackle in the NFL.

Trent really needs to improve in his work habits, his overall dedication and his passion for the game. At times last year, Mike Shanahan and others on the coaching staff were frustrated with the rookie, according to team sources.

As for Kory Lichtensteiger, clearly he made progress as a starting left guard. He took over for Derrick Dockery and did not looking back. He wasn't perfect, obviously, but improved every week along the way.

"I was pretty good in the running game, that's definitely my strong point," Lichtensteiger said via telephone to ESPN 980 on Tuesday. "I would say, from day one, the most noticeable improvement I made was in pass protection."

As for Lichtensteiger being a natural center, and playing out of position at guard?

"Honestly, it's going to be a maturing process. At the beginning of last year, I would have told you I felt a lot more comfortable at center. Taking reps all year at guard, I became comfortable. At the end of the year, I didn't want to take as many snaps at center, because it didn't feel as natural as guard anymore."

So there you have it. Done. Starter and probably not looking back.

Casey Rabach, has obviously had some struggles, but he is still a leader and gets the line calls and his unit in the right position almost all of the time.

The Redskins could consider using another natural center, Will Montgomery, at the position -- if he isn't required to play right guard.

Montgomery is tough and feisty and should get better with more snaps and practice reps, using his strength, combined with the athleticism that the Shanahan's like.

Montgomery could play at center if Artis Hicks can regain his form and step in to be the starting right-guard.

Hicks recently told me (via ESPN 980), "I'm great, and ready to roll. I took four days off since the season ended. I've been training pretty hard." Hicks can play four different positions along the line, so don't count him out.

Gary talked about Brown, but the Redskins have other options as well, depending on how things shake out at the right-tackle spot.

The bottom line is -- if individuals get better with their work ethic and more experience, then the Redskins offensive line might not be that far away from being a good unit.

Call me crazy, but that's how I see it.


MATT: Tremendous job replicating your natural radio verbosity in print form, Chris.

But it’s a lot of words that really doesn’t answer the question ... which isn’t really your fault. Because, honestly, we have no idea if the offensive line answers are on the roster; the best we can do is project what the questions are. And, even though you guys have already done that, here’s my version of the same list:

Will Trent Williams improve over his solid-if-spotty rookie campaign? If so, left tackle is locked up.

Was Jammal Brown’s late season improvement a sign that he’s getting back to Pro Bowl form? If so, he’s a perfect solution at right tackle if he returns.

Does Casey Rabach have another season or two left physically? If not, there’s going to have to be some reshuffling.

Can at least one of Selvish Capers or Erik Cook or draft pick Maurice Hurt progress enough to contribute this year? Is Clint Oldenburg, returning from injury, someone who can chip in in a pinch? If not, depth is going to be a serious issue.

There were points last season where the offensive line looked like a unit that might work going forward, but I’m going to need a lot of answers before I breathe easy with them this year.


GARY: Chris agrees with me? Uh oh, call me crazy, too. Matt is perhaps the realistic one here, although his reply is a bit wishy-washy.

I am willing to give the present makeup of the O-line a chance, and I believe in their potential, but I have reservations. If there are upgrades available in free agency, I believe the Redskins ought to pursue them.

If their free agency O-line targets sign elsewhere, there's nothing they can do about it except go with who they have. As I mentioned earlier, I'd like to see how the current line progresses -- especially Lichtensteiger and Montgomery -- through the course of a season.

That doesn't mean I'm fully comfortable with it, though.

Oh wait. Perhaps I'm being wishy-washy, too.


CHRIS: As ESPN 980's Rick "Doc" Walker says, the Redskins have three centers playing the two guard positions, along with that one center spot.

Obviously, they are undersized and that is a concern going against a bigger front in Dallas and a great pass rush of the Giants. Plus the Eagles should be better with the defensive staff changes they have made.

Some feel Mike Shanahan's light, athletic pure zone blocking scheme can't work in the physical NFC East. I say -- while I'm concerned -- the league is changing and you need guys who can get off-the-ball and to the second level of the defense.

It will take some time, but this unit -- like the Redskins offense as a whole -- will get better this year.