ASHBURN — For weeks and months Redskins left guard Shawn Lauvao was unsure if his starting spot would be there for him.
Lauvao shredded ligaments in his left ankle last year in Week 3 and had five surgical procedures total to fix both that injury and his ailing right foot. As late as January he was motoring around the locker room on a scooter.
Washington was cautious with Lauvao during training camp. He primarily worked with the second team in practices after missing the entire offseason program in the spring. But the competition with Spencer Long — who started most of last season in Lauvao’s place — went deep into preseason practice.
And once Long missed some time with a sprained right ankle, Lauvao was again in line to start. He will do so tonight when the Redskins host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener on Monday Night Football.
“It’s real humbling,” Lauvao said.
Even as late as last week, Redskins coach Jay Gruden wouldn’t say who would start at left guard. But Long missed some practice time with a sprained right ankle and Lauvao reclaimed his spot. Coincidence or not, the running game that was so good the first two weeks of last season fell off a cliff when Lauvao was hurt in Week 3 against the New York Giants. After back-to-back weeks with a running back over 100 yards, that didn’t happen again for Washington until Week 16. It finished 29th in rushing yards per play (3.65).
Lauvao isn’t a cure all for those struggles. And maybe the Redskins don’t need one given how much talent they have at tight end and wide receiver. This is a passing offense in a passing league. But balance is still necessary. And Lauvao should help there with Long — for now — a top reserve.
“We weren’t sure how Shawn was going to recover from his feet issues and he’s come back in a big way,” Gruden said. “He was our starter before … and has proven he’s back in tip top shape and done an excellent job. I feel great about both of those guys, I really do. I wouldn’t bat an eye whoever was in there — Spencer or Shawn.”
Lauvao signed a four-year contract before the 2014 season and has one year left on his deal. He resists the urge to look too far ahead, though. Lauvao is just happy to be back on the field and contributing.
“You know how it goes in this league. It just goes in different seasons,” Lauvao said. “They like you. They want you to prove yourself. Or they just don’t like you. I think a lot of times, that’s just the game.”
Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter