With Injuries to Starters Mounting, Has Mike Shanahan Neglected the Offensive Line?

| July 31, 2012 | 3 Comments

 

Simple answer; no.

Longer answer; as training camp kicks into high gear and the pads gone on, what was already an area of concern for many fans has become more so. Right tackle Jammal Brown was already battling though his ever-nagging hip injury. He showed well in minicamps and OTA’s, but then reinjured his hip during gassers, and is scheduled for an MRI later today. Kory Lichtensteiger appeared to be recovered from his ACL and MCL injuries, but had to get a minor scope done on his knee over the weekend. And undrafted free agent Willie Smith got his knee banged up on Monday.

This is all a part of training camp. Injuries happen in every camp; no team goes through a training camp without someone getting hurt, be it a minor tweak or a cramp, a hamstring pull, or a major injury. Still, there is a certain amount of fair concern that an already shaky situation has been made a lot shakier in the last few days.

But with that fair amount of worry, comes an altogether less reasonable thought process; namely, that Mike Shanahan hasn’t done enough while he’s been here to address the offensive line.

To which I quote a wise man and say…”really?”.

The first major move of Mike Shanahan’s tenure here was the 3-way trade to acquire not only Donovan McNabb, but Jammal Brown as well.  Whether or not Jammal Brown works out or not has no baring on that; Shanahan’s first major decision upon becoming head coach, was trading for an offensive linemen.

And his very first draft pick in his tenure as head coach? An offensive linemen to replace Chris Samuels. With the first pick in his first draft as head coach, the Redskins selected Trent Williams with the 4th pick overall in 2010.

The Redskins went 9 years without so much as of glancing at another lineman in the first round. From 2000 to 2009, the Redskins drafted 9 offensive linemen, with an average draft position of 143rd overall. They drafted an average of one lineman a year for 9 years, and that doesn’t tell the whole story, as they didn’t draft offensive linemen at all in 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

In Mike’s first three seasons as head coach, he’s added 7 offensive linemen through the draft. The only one not still with the team is Selvish Capers, who was at the very least deemed to have enough potential that the New York Giants added him to their practice squad.

In addition, Mike Shanahan signed Kory Lichtensteiger in that first year, a player whom he drafted in Denver. In year two he signed Chris Chester and Sean Locklear, and then when they needed more help he signed another former Bronco in Tyler Polumbus, who played well for us down the stretch.  He appeared to find a potential gem in undrafted free agent Willie Smith who started and was a solid player at left tackle while Trent Williams served his suspension.

“We should’ve cut bait with Jammal Brown to begin with! And improved at guard with Kory not healthy!” I can hear some people crowing. Whether or not we should’ve cut bait with JB is up to the coaches and the front office. What we do know, however, is that the Redskins aggressively pursued the best possible offensive line talents that they could in a further attempt to solidify the offensive line.

The Redskins went after big name offensive line talents like Eric Winston,  Demetress Bell, Evan Matthis, we looked into Mike Briesel and Chris Meyers. They did everything in their power to entice top flight offensive lineman to come here, but the Redskins completely unfairly, sort of illegal cap penalty prevented them from going out and being even more aggressive, and those sanctions directly affected our ability to compete against what other people could argue.

“We could’ve restructured guys contracts and freed up cap room…” No. Just no. “Restructuring contracts” doesn’t mean what most people think it means. In most cases, when you restructure a person’s contract, that means either 1.) giving them more money up front to alleviate the cost of their contracts in later years, which wouldn’t help us in the short-term, or 2.) adding more years to a contract and spreading out a person’s money, so they’re essentially getting paid the same amount over more years, which doesn’t help us long term.

“We shouldn’t have used that fourth round pick on Kirk Cousins!” still others are now saying. “We could’ve used another linemen there!” To that, there’s a few things I can say.

 

  1. 1.) I was unaware that drafting four linemen would’ve magically prevented other player’s from getting injured and forcing younger players to play early.
  2. 2.) The draft does not work that way. In the draft, the goal is to try to fill as many of the bigger holes on your football team as possible. There are times when you can load up at certain positions. But in the case of the Redskins offensive line, the more people you draft, the more people you have to cut. And while that jives well with the “we should’ve cut Jammal Brown in the first place” line of thing, it doesn’t work in the larger context of building an offensive line.
  3. 3.) What fourth round offensive lineman was so good that he’d be able to easily slide in and start at right tackle and replace Jammal Brown? And I can almost hear the name “Bobby Massie” on the tip of someone’s tongue right now, but the Ole Miss product 1.) wasn’t a fit for out scheme, and 2.) at this point, he’s still not a shoe-in to start for the team that did draft him, which is much more of a power, man blocking scheme. Other than Massie, there’s not a single offensive lineman taking after the third round who is currently slated to be a starter when the season starts.

“Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it the Zone Blocking Scheme that’s the issue, because of what it requires from it’s linemen. It’s not much of a pass protecting scheme anyway and…” The issue isn’t the scheme. The ZBS works. It’s worked for a long time. It takes a while for all the pieces to gel and work together, but when it does work, it works, well. Part of it is because the moment of the quarterbacks means teams can’t just tee off on. While he was in Denver, Jay Cutler only took 27 sacks in his first full season as a starter, and took 11 sacks in 2008.

All indications are that our offense will closely resemble the offense that Mike Shanahan ran with Jake Plummer. Plummer took an average of 17 sacks a season in Denver.

The scheme isn’t the problem. It does require a certain skill set which may make it slightly harder to find linemen, but the scheme isn’t the problem.

The offensive line that people are complaining about potentially starting is the same offensive line that only gave up 8 sacks to end the season; and that was without Trent Williams. According to Pro Football Focus, Trent Williams had one of the best performances for a left tackle in the entire season versus the Seattle Seahawks, and finished in the 15th out of the top 20 offensive tackles in terms of pass blocking efficiency.

And on the whole season, according to Football Outsiders, the offensive line ranked 10th in the NFL in run blocking and 15th in pass blocking.

Is our offensive line perfect? No, of course not. But no line is. What has helped the line get to this point is having the same people playing the same scheme for the past two seasons. And let’s also not forget that across the board, the offensive linemen we did draft all received high marks; Adam Gettis and Tom Compton were hailed as potential steals, and the only pundit who spoke up on Josh LeRibeus was Mel “Jimmy Clausen Is A Future Star” Kiper.

Welcome to the wonderful world of having depth, ladies and gentlemen. One or two injuries does not cripple us in the way that it did before. The situation is less than ideal, sure. But we are not in crisis mode, or in immediate danger of our quarterback suffering a major injury. Far from it.

To suggest that we “haven’t done enough” to fix the offensive line is foolish, and plain wrong. Fact is, this regime, under Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen, has done more in its tenure to not just a competitive offensive line, but also build and cultivate depth.

The sky is not falling, Chicken Littles. Keep Calm and enjoy the ride. There is no reason to panic yet.

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3 comments
amazing NFL mock draft
amazing NFL mock draft

It's hard to come by educated people on this subject, but you sound like you know what you're talking about! Thanks

@DCDieHard69
@DCDieHard69

I love it!!! So true. All the whiny fans you're talking to need to stop griping and learn football. Skins will dominate soon.

TMM75
TMM75

Excellent work. A few things that people overlook. 1. High draft picks is not the only path to OL success. One of our best linemen ever, and I realize he was a physical freak, was UDFA Joe Jacoby. Bostic was also a UDFA. Mark Schlereth was a 10th overall pick, Raleigh Mckenzie 11th round. And so on. 2. A guy like Rex Grossman, respect the heck out of him, but he's not an offensive line's friend. Doesn't have good feet nor a quick release really. Look at Cam Newton and the Panthers, spent 12 games with an UDFA protecting the right side. Byron Bell, per Pro Football Focus, was terrible yet the Panthers were able to overcome that thanks to Newton. I hate the RG3-Newton comparisons but in this case it's warranted. RG3 will be an OL's best friend. 3. Pass protection is not limited to the line only. Don't underestimate the value of guys like Hightower, Moss (even Armstrong) and their ability to be effective pass blockers. 4. RG3s feet and quick release will help his offensive line. But RG3 is going to need some best friends too. A sleeper guy in all of this is going to be Josh Morgan. He's not expected to be the stud #1 receiver that Garcon is expected to be, the breakout player that Hankerson is expected to be, nor the comeback player Moss is expected to be (in the more comfortable slot position), but Morgan is solid possession guy who runs crisp routes and will put himself in position to bail RG3 out when needed.

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