The 2009 Washington Redskins season was not just hampered by an injury bug that often revels on numerous rosters each year, having a fan expect it to be wearing a jersey of its own. The offensive line was a weak point of the roster from opening day, and it only eroded daily as injuries took away some of the players most considered the top tier talent of the unit.
Gone is perennial Pro Bowler Chris Samuels, who retired because of a spine injury suffered in the fifth game last year that left an enormous void at the left tackle position. The man who replaced him for eight games, veteran Levi Jones, is no longer with the team as well.
Right guard Randy Thomas has suited up for just five games in three years, so the teams parted ways with the 11-year veteran as well. Mike Williams, who started eight games as a replacement for Thomas, reportedly has blood clots near his heart and may sit out the entire 2010 season.
Center Casey Rabach enters his tenth season and will be 34 years old in September. His contract expires as seasons end, so he may be playing his last year with the team. He has missed one game in his five years with the team, though his level of play seems to lessen each year.
Washington has a few prospects lined up to take over. Edwin Williams is a local player who made the team as a free agent rookie last year, and started two of the three games he played at guard. He performed quite well at a position he had not played since his freshman year at Maryland University. If he makes the team, as expected, he could very well be Rabach’s replacement.
Will Montgomery is a four-year veteran also fighting for a roster spot as both a center and guard. He is on his third team, but he did start three games for the Redskins last year. Erik Cook is a 6’6″ center who was voted the Most Valuable Player by his teammates at New Mexico University last year. He was drafted in the seventh round and will learn how to play guard as well.
Though Washington appears to have no proven quality depth at this position, veteran offensive line coach Chris Foerster will be called upon to up the youngsters abilities. Forester, who previously was an offensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49ers, is replacing the legendary Joe “Boss Hog” Bugel and has just as big a job before him as Bugel did in 2009.
The redskins finished 26th in offense during the 2009 NFL season. They also finished 28th in takeaway/ giveaway ratio. The offensive line was often seen collapsing on each play, sending Redskins quarterbacks scrambling for their lives and running backs hobbling to the sidelines injured.
First year general manager Bruce Allen not only drafted Cook, but he picked up a few veterans off of free agency and trades to attempt to bolster the unit. Artis Hicks has spent most of his seven NFL seasons as a reserve with the ability to play guard or tackle. He now will be handed a starting job for the first time in his career.
Jammal Brown is a 29-year old left tackle who has gone to two Pro Bowls in his four years in the league. He also was a member of the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl XLIV winning team. His acquisition was a tremendous get for Allen and the Redskins.
Right tackle has been manned mostly by Stephon Heyer the past few years, though 2009 was the first time he played all 16 games. Washington drafted Trent Williams in the first round of the 2010 draft to play the position. This position appears unsettled for now because the rookie can be expected to have the typical growing pains as he learns his position.
Left guard also seems set with eight year veteran Derrick Dockery. Men like Chad Rinehart, Kory Lichtensteiger, Selvish Capers, William Robinson, and Clint Oldenberg will also battle for roster spots. None have more than two years of experience, so injuries could leave the team with as many question marks as they had last year.
The Redskins do not want to have another 4-12 finish like 2009, so they picked up veterans like Donovan McNabb, Willie Parker, Larry Johnson, Joey Galloway, Bobby Wade, Roydell Williams, and Mike Furrey. Most of these veterans are not quite as explosive as they once were, so they will needed added seconds to show what they have left.
This is where the offensive line comes under the glare of the spotlight. Though Washington appears to have an idea what to expect from most players, as far as production goes, the unknown entity of the blocking unit has to leave some nerves unsettled for the brand new coaching staff.
Many prognosticators are picking the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC East in 2010. The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants are also very strong teams in the division, both capable of winning it all. They all have very good defenses that will test the Redskins offensive line at least six times this year.
The unit has very good proven players in Brown and Dockery, but questions everywhere else. Getting solid seasons from Rabach, Hicks, and Williams is needed if they want to create holes for a group of running backs most critics call ancient and on their last legs. The ground game that is needed to survive a season in the NFC East.
If they can get adequate play from the group, Washington’s hopes for competing in their division and beyond will appear more feasible. Though several pieces in their puzzle must fall into place for this to be a reality, it all appears to start in the trenches.