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The Revamped Offensive Line Is Cautiously Optimistic

Posted by Matt Terl on October 14, 2009 – 11:26 am

If I had to characterize the mood of the locker room today — and I did, actually, when we were taping Redskins Nation for Comcast SportsNet — I’d call it “frustrated.” Not with each other, per se, and not with the coaches. Not with the media, either (Mike Sellers‘s mildly amusing quote notwithstanding).

They just seem frustrated with not winning. This is a team that is firmly convinced — rightly or not — that they’re underperforming and failing to execute.
And that sentiment extends to everyone on the team, including the newly reshuffled offensive line. If you listen to head coach Jim Zorn’s Monday press conference on Redskins.com, you’ll hear the Washington Post’s Jason Reid ask if this lineup — which Zorn officially declared today as Stephon Heyer, Derrick Dockery, Casey Rabach, Will Montgomery, and Mike Williams — will allow Zorn to call the plays he wants.

It’s an eminently reasonable question, but if you listen to Reid’s voice the tone of sheer disbelief makes it clear just how little is expected of this group.

Fortunately, they don’t see it quite that way.

“I just think everybody [needs to] understand their job and do their job,” Rabach — now the grizzled Redskins veteran of the line — said. “That’s what it comes down to. There’s a lot of new guys at different positions, but it’s a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. We just have to go through and play. That’s all we have to do.”

Dockery went for a similarly level-headed approach. “I think everybody that’s plugged in has to make sure that they do their job,” he said. “I think as individuals you’ve gotta take pride in your work, come in each and every day prepare like it’s your last, and go hard. We can’t be worried about this guy or that guy; I think if everybody does their job, if we’re a cohesive unit on that field come Sunday, we’ll be fine.”

Williams was asked if he had talked to Heyer for tips on the right tackle spot, and seemed completely incredulous at the question. “We sit right next to each other in the meeting room,” he said, laughing. “Man, we talk. The offensive line, what makes a good offensive line, everybody communicates. There’s not a guy that’s in there that does not talk to each other. It’s not like, ‘You got your job and I got mine, so you do yours.’ No.

“Even when I wasn’t in there,” he continued, “me and Stephon would still talk. ‘What do you see? What can do I this?’ or ‘What do you see, Steph? What step can I do better?’ And that’s just building. That’s offensive line unity, and that’s how it’s always gonna be. There’s not gonna be any added pressure cause he’s shuffling new people. It’s just gonna be different. Not extra pressure, just different.”

One of the main concerns is if Heyer — who came into the league as an undrafted free agent — can fill in for Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels on Jason Campbell‘s blindside. And, again, the guys he’ll be playing alongside seem quietly confident.

“Stephon’s a professional,” Dockery said. “He’ll be just fine. He’s gonna do an excellent job for us. He’s played left [tackle] before, so this is nothing new for him.”

Samuels also extended Heyer a vote of confidence. “He’s gonna see the best rushers every week,” he explained, “and, you know, Stephon’s the man for the job. I think he’ll get it done.”

(Samuels also discussed his situation in slightly more depth, and … well, basically it still sounds just like it did this morning. “I’m confident,” he said. “I’m praying, too, so I think that the good Lord’ll give me my answer on what I need to do. I’m just working hard and staying optimistic.” And, later: “You have to take it all into account, you know? It’s pretty serious. Anytime you’re dealing with your spine, you gotta be safe about it.” But he did firmly say that he doesn’t think his season is over, so there’s that.)

What about the offensive line taking time to gel, though? Isn’t that important? Can they possibly be successful without having gone through training camp as a cohesive whole?

Dockery seemed to think it was possible. “It doesn’t hurt to have guys that have played together for a long time,” he acknowleged, “who know the ins and outs. But for the most part, it’s the National Football League; somebody gets injured, somebody’ll step in and perform at a high level.”

One guy they ARE having the chance to gel with is running back Clinton Portis. And neither side minimizes the importance of that.

“I mean, it’s always good to have the opportunity to gel,” Portis said after practice. “You know, you see how they’re gonna block me. I mean, this really is learning new guys. You just gotta learn the tendencies of them.”

Rabach agreed. “Anytime that your running back can practice, that’s a good thing. You get the timing down with the back, which is hard to get with him watching practice. He sees the way we’re blocking things, which helps, and it’s hard to do when he’s not in there and stuff. So anytime that Clinton practices, that’s a good thing.”

It was Will Montgomery, though, just after being named the starter — standing in the cold and the rain after practice — who really summed up the attitude of the entire reconstituted offensive line at this point in the week. Kelli Johnson of Comcast SportsNet had asked him if the gameplan was going to be limited, and Montgomery had given a deliberately glib answer. (“Well, with our gameplan we’re gonna run it, and we’re gonna pass it, and we’re gonna score points,” he said)

Someone else — David Elfin of the Times, I think — followed up with another question about the dramatic changes on the offensive line and the problems it might cause, and Montgomery just shook his head.

“You know,” he said, “I think the media makes it dramatic. I think I’m just gonna go out there and play football — like I’ve been doing my whole career — and have fun.”

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