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Elfin: With Jammal Brown Down Again, Who Will Protect Robert Griffin III?

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Rookie Quarterback Robert Griffin III will have to endure his first full season behind a patchwork offensive line. (Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Rookie Quarterback Robert Griffin III will have to endure his first full season behind a patchwork offensive line. (Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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The Redskins used to be famous for their stellar offensive line. Led by assistant coaches Joe Bugel and Jim Hanifan, the Hogs — including Pro Bowl picks Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, Mark May, Jim Lachey and Mark Schlereth – were critical in Washington’s three Super Bowl triumphs, four NFC titles, eight playoff berths and 10 winning seasons under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs from 1981-92.

Those five aforementioned players combined for 13 Pro Bowl selections. In contrast, Chris Samuels, a six-time selection, was Washington’s lone Pro Bowl lineman during the past 19 seasons. Not coincidentally, the Redskins won zero Super Bowls and NFC titles, made the playoffs just three times and recorded only five winning seasons from 1993-2011.

And now after investing three first-round draft choices and a second-rounder plus $21.2 million in Heisman Trophy winner Robert “The Face Of The Franchise” Griffin III, Washington could well be asking the quarterback to start his rookie season behind a patchwork line.

The Redskins learned Wednesday that while Jammal Brown doesn’t need surgery on his chronically ailing left hip, the 31-year-old right tackle – who missed all of 2009 after surgery on that hip while with New Orleans — doesn’t seem likely to be activated from the physically unable to perform list any time soon.

“I don’t think anybody knows (if Jammal can return) until you put him through the conditioning drills, treatment, give him a workout and see how he reacts the next day,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “We’re not going to take him off PUP until he’s ready to go. If he’s able to go and we feel like there’s a chance he’ll stay injury-free, he’ll be on our football team. If not, obviously he can’t.”

Read between the lines and it sounds pretty ominous for Brown.

Meanwhile, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger’s surgically repaired left knee seemed to be fine on the second day of camp last Friday only to go back under the knife on Monday to clean out loose particles. Lichtensteiger, whose 2011 season ended in Week 6 with a torn ACL and MCL, is expected back for Washington’s Sept. 9 opener at New Orleans, a week shy of 11 months since he last played in a game. Think the 27-year-old will be rusty as he tries to block Saints linemen who’ll be pumped to show up the NFL for its Bountygate punishment and would love to kayo Griffin in the process?

While Brown and Lichtensteiger are sidelined, their likely respective replacements are 27-year-old journeyman Tyler Polumbus, who joined the Redskins as a street free agent last November, and Maurice Hurt, a seventh-round selection in 2011 who spent the first six weeks of his rookie year on the practice squad. Neither Polumbus nor Hurt is likely to ever be voted to a Pro Bowl, let alone join Grimm in being enshrined in Canton.

Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls, reached the playoffs seven times and recorded nine winning seasons during his 14 years in Denver, employed five Broncos linemen who combined for 10 Pro Bowl appearances during that span. His rushing attack was the NFL’s best.

The coach came to Washington in January 2010 vowing to fix what was wrong with the Redskins, whose 4-12 record in 2009 was their worst in 15 years and occurred in part because three players started at left tackle and five took a turn at right guard.

In Shanahan’s 2010 Redskins debut, the five regulars up front all started at least 10 games with Lichtensteiger and Will Montgomery eventually supplanting guards Derrick Dockery and Artis Hicks on a line that was remarkably healthy for a 6-10 team.

Last year, Lichtensteiger, Brown and left tackle Trent Williams were all hurt by the ninth game. The year ended with rookie free agent Willie Smith starting for the suspended Williams, Hurt in for Lichtensteiger next to center Montgomery and Polumbus replacing Brown alongside right guard Chris Chester. Washington lost 10 of its last 12 games to finish 5-11, the worst record of Shanahan’s career.

Today, Hurt and Polumbus are two of Griffin’s prime protectors, perhaps for the long-term. And Williams is one failed drug test from a year-long suspension.

Would you blame Griffin for wondering if he can return the millions, reclaim his final year of eligibility and get back behind a more stable line at Baylor?

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin

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