Reporting David Elfin
When the Redskins opened training camp 14 weeks ago, their biggest concerns were their safeties and their offensive line.
While injuries and poor play have proven those fears true on the defense’s back end, at mid-season, the offensive front has been surprisingly effective. Washington is second in rushing and sixth in total yards. Only eight offenses have scored more points.
That’s quite a contrast from last season when Washington finished 25th in rushing and 16th in total offense. Only six offenses scored fewer points.
Sure, fantastic quarterback Robert Griffin III and superb running back Alfred Morris, each the NFL’s best rookie at his position, deserve plenty of credit for the offensive surge, but so do the guys blocking for them.
“You gotta let the stats speak for themselves,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “Any time you’re running the ball like we are, I think it speaks very highly of the offensive line and the offensive unit in general. That doesn’t just happen, not in this league against the competition you play. A lot of guys are doing a lot of good things.”
Actually on the line, it has only been five guys. Unlike last year when the Redskins started seven different combinations up front from Weeks 7-15 alone, Shanahan has lined up the same five men each Sunday: left tackle Trent Williams, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, center Will Montgomery, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Tyler Polumbus.
“It’s been good to have a little continuity on the line,” said Polumbus, who started 15 games for Denver and Seattle in 2009 and 2010 before being signed off the street by Washington a year ago next week. “That makes good things happen. Hopefully we’ll continue to have that.”
It will be interesting to see what Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and line coach Chris Foerster decide to do at right tackle if 2010-11 starter Jammal Brown, a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle with New Orleans, is ready to be activated from the physically unable to perform list when the Redskins return from their Week 10 bye.
My educated guess is that Brown will need a week or two of re-acclimation before the coaches are faced with a decision about right tackle. In the mean time, Polumbus is a part of “a great group of guys that I love to go to battle with.”
While Polumbus has been a pleasant surprise, Lichtensteiger’s uneventful return from the torn right ACL that ended his 2011 season in Week 6 has been a quietly inspiring story.
“I don’t know if I’m proud of how I’ve held up or more just happy that I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything from before I hurt my knee,” said Lichtensteiger, who missed preseason after having the knee scoped on July 30 and wears a brace to protect the repaired joint. “We never thought we were going to be a weak part of this team. We knew what we were capable of and for the most part, we’ve lived up to it. I wouldn’t say we’ve proved anybody wrong. But have we answered some questions? I think so. The coaches have done a good job of putting us in situations where we can use our strengths.”
Which in the Shanahan scheme is zone-blocking on runs on which Morris slams ahead at the hash marks or Griffin uses his world-class speed to get to the edge and then race upfield.
“We’ve played pretty well,” said Montgomery, who hasn’t missed a start since becoming a regular in November 2010. “We’ve had a chance to win every game [except last week’s at Pittsburgh]. Our O-Line has been relatively healthy so far which is a pretty big deal. A dynamic quarterback helps out, too.”
Chester, who has started all 24 games since arriving from Baltimore in July 2011, said despite the solid first half, “none of us are satisfied,” a sentiment that Williams seconded.
“We’re playing at a good level, but we can definitely turn it up a couple of notches,” said Williams, whom the coaches believe is finally living up to the potential that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”
Indeed, the Redskins have allowed 17 sacks – although several were more the fault of Morris and reserve back Evan Royster – as they prepare for a second half that includes two games each against Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware and Philadelphia’s Jason Babin and Trent Cole, the rematch with the New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, and a matchup with Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs.
No one’s ready to declare the 2012 Redskins’ line a latter-day version of the famed Hogs. Heck, the group’s not even as good as the Samuels-Kendall-Rabach-Thomas-Jansen quintet that powered Washington to a 6-2 first half in 2008. But Williams and Co. aren’t a weakness either.
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