by Grant PaulsenBy Grant Paulsen

The NFL Combine is underway and the first position group to be measured, interviewed and asked to meet with the media is the offensive line. With dozens of players auditioning for jobs in Indianapolis this week, it seems like a good time to analyze Washington’s offensive-front.

2011 Summary: 

There was no area on the field where the Redskins were more consistently crippled by injuries than along their offensive line. Left tackle Trent Williams missed a pair of games (health-related) and four others do to a suspension, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger’s season ended after a serious knee injury in October and right tackle Jammal Brown missed more time in 2011 than he did in 2010.

Center Will Montgomery had a fine season and seems to have proven to be a serviceable enough commodity to stick around. He’s a free agent, but he’s a Virginia native and a quality schematic fit, so he’ll likely be retained. Right guard Chris Chester, signed to a five-year contract last summer, was the only Redskins lineman who made 16 starts at the position where he began the season. He’s not going to be a pro bowler any time soon, but like Montgomery, he’s a fine option in Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme.

Rookie left guard Maurice Hurt was pressed into duty before he was ready, not by design but out of necessity. The 2011 seventh-round pick made eight starts, despite being drafted as a project who wasn’t going to see the field in his first-year in an ideal scenario. But there was nothing ideal about last season for the Redskins.

Fellow rookie Willie Smith, an undrafted tackle who was a surprise addition to the Redskins’ 53-man roster on final cut-down day, finished the season protecting Rex Grossman’s blind side. Like Hurt, he was on Washington’s roster for his future upside more than because he was going to play at a high level in year-one. Even 26 year-old tackle Tyler Polumbus, signed after being released by the Seattle Seahawks in the middle of the season, played in five games and made four starts for the Redskins.

2011 Statistical Breakdown:

The Redskins allowed five fewer sacks in 2011 than they did in Mike Shanahan’s first season in Washington, an impressive improvement when you consider that left tackle Trent Williams (6), right tackle Jammal Brown (4) and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger (11) missed a combined 21 games. Washington went from allowing the fifth-most sacks in the league to 11th-most with backups playing more extensively than planned.

Washington’s quarterbacks were still under too much pressure, though. The Redskins allowed contact of their passer on 108 plays in 2011, down just two quarterback hits allowed from 2010, when Washington tied for the most quarterback-hits yielded.

As far as the running game goes, the Redskins averaged 4.0 yards per carry, tied for 21st in the NFL. Kyle Shanahan’s offense ran the ball 400 times last season, the 25th highest total in the league. One area where Washington has to improve is in creating holes and gaining tough yards along the goal-line. The Redskins rushed for just eight touchdowns last season, resulting in only four teams scoring fewer points on the ground.

Offseason Needs:

Re-signing restricted free agent Kory Lichtensteiger, recovering from a knee injury that ended his season in week-five, should be Washington’s first priority. Agreeing to terms on a new contract with starting center Will Montgomery should be near the top of the Redskins’ offensive line to-do list as well. Keeping the continuity of having Lichtensteiger and Montgomery up front would allow Washington to focus its attention and money on other, more pressing, needs.

Right tackle is an area where the Redskins should try to improve their personnel. The idea of trading for Jammal Brown — a former all-pro who was available at a low-cost because he was coming of an injury — made sense two offseasons ago. But he has never returned to his pre-injury form, meaning the Redskins haven’t gotten adequate right tackle productivity.

He was playing through pain and discomfort throughout much of the 2011 season, which was admirable, but the drop off in production between he and his backup (Polumbus) was not nearly as substantial as it should have been. In the Redskins’ final game of the season in Philadelphia, Polumbus actually started for Brown — who said after the game that he was healthy enough to play.

I wouldn’t consider right tackle a paramount need, because you can get by with Brown as he is, but it is probably the Redskins’ fifth biggest need (behind QB, WR, S, and CB).

The best plan of action will probably be for Washington to wait-and-see with Brown. In the coming months of the offseason Washington could add a right tackle who can compete for playing time, while hoping that Brown shows back up at Redskins Park healthier than he’s been over the past two seasons. If he is still hobbled by ailments and doesn’t seem to be getting closer to his New Orleans Saints form, releasing him after June 1st would cost considerably less than it would to waive him before that date, anyway.

Regardless of what Washington’s offensive coaching staff decides to do with Brown, who signed a new five-year deal worth $20.25 million last July, the Redskins desperately need to add depth. The club entered last season without a proven backup guard on the roster, which can’t happen again.

Reserve tackle Sean Locklear, brought in to back up Trent Williams, struggled in limited work and is unlikely to return. Polumbus is under contract for the 2012 season but it would make sense for Washington to add a backup with starting experience, considering that Williams is a failed drug test away from missing 16 games and based on Brown’s injury history.


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