Redskins at Jets Today, 1 p.m., Fox Jerry Brewer: Brandon Scherff, modest mauler, faces a demanding task.
Of course, Brandon Scherff refuses to make too much of the matchup. He’s not the excitable type. If you filled his locker with spiders, he’d probably remain stone-faced, survey the problem and quietly figure out a solution.
Later, he would get his payback in the same calm manner. And you’d feel the retribution, for sure. And you’d never bother him again.
That’s just Scherff, a modest mauler. The rookie right guard will never be described as fun. And the Washington Redskins don’t need him to be fun, just as a patient doesn’t need a surgeon to be fun. He used the phrase “each and every game” five times during an interview Thursday afternoon. He’s a rinse-andrepeat guy, a player who will be appreciated for dependability more than flashes of brilliance.
So it’s typical and reassuring that Scherff will approach Sunday’s demanding task with an unconcerned air. The No. 5 pick in April’s NFL draft will face the player Washington bypassed to select him, New York Jets defensive tackle Leonard Williams. And if the possibility of being matched up with the No. 6 pick — and more universally appreciated rookie — weren’t challenging enough, Scherff also gets to lead an offensive line that will be without three starters. And he’ll be leading the unit against a deep and talented Jets defensive front that welcomes the return of Pro Bowl end Sheldon Richardson from a fourgame suspension. Is Scherff worried? Fired up? “Nah,” he said. Normal blood pressure should be labeled “SCHERFF” on medical charts.
“They chose you for a reason, and you’ve just got to go out there and show them why they made the right decision,” Scherff said. “You’ve just got to go out and play football. I want to earn the trust of all the guys up front and play at the type of level they’re playing at each and every game.”
Over the first five games of his NFL career, Scherff has earned the trust of his teammates. The Washington offensive line has been a pleasant surprise so far, reducing sacks dramatically and paving the way for a run game that has had a few dominant performances. But left guard Shawn Lauvao, the team’s best interior run blocker, suffered a season-ending ankle injury three weeks ago. Now, left tackle Trent Williams and center Kory Lichtensteiger will miss the Jets game because of injuries. Scherff and right tackle Morgan Moses, who have a combined 11 NFL starts, suddenly lead a makeshift O-line in seniority. And for all the talented defensive lines Washington has already played, the Jets might have the most star power.
“We have a level of concern against that line with the starting lineup,” Coach Jay Gruden said.
The Redskins played well last week in Atlanta despite being overmatched, but the injuries might be too great to overcome this time, especially with the Jets coming off a bye week. But if they are competitive at MetLife Stadium, Scherff figures to play a key role in keeping the offensive line functional. It’s the first time he will have such a burden.
The flip side is that an offensive guard can only do so much. Which brings us back to debating the value of selecting Scherff so high.
General Manager Scot McCloughan made a statement about his intent to transform Washington into a blue-collar team when he drafted Scherff. He didn’t take Williams, who was considered the best player in the draft by several draft analysts. He didn’t take a freakish athlete like pass rusher Vic Beasley, whom Atlanta selected No. 8 overall. McCloughan wanted Scherff, and when he couldn’t find the right partner to trade down and collect more assets before snagging the offensive lineman, he just took Scherff at No. 5, higher than most would have.
At the time, the thought was that Scherff would be a right tackle. In training camp, Bill Callahan, the team’s new offensive line guru, moved him to guard. It makes McCloughan’s selection seem even more unorthodox now, but the general manager was most interested in drafting the right player for this situation, not winning over highbrow analysts who think about the selection in a vacuum.
Since the draft, McCloughan hasn’t dodged the questions about whether he made the proper decision. He acknowledges that better athletes and sexier picks from this draft class might become stars earlier than Scherff. But for McCloughan, Scherff embodies the four traits he wants to infuse in this roster: competitive, consistent, tough and smart.
Scherff is quiet in the locker room, but his presence, work habits and rapid growth have been noticed.
“He’s growing fast,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “He’s developing quick. He’s working on his craft. He’s becoming a lot better. He had to grow up real fast because, with this schedule, week in and week out, he’s gone against some of the best defensive linemen. And we’ve seen him hold his own. He’s doing a hell of a job. If that’s the kind of rookies Scot’s going to be bringing in, it just speaks to how good we’re going to be.”
Scherff has been more than just a symbol. He’s already a solid NFL starter with ample room to grow. The coaches rave about how he rarely repeats mistakes. He has the routine and work habits of a veteran. And he’s one of the reasons that the Redskins are a more physical team.
To justify being the No. 5 pick, Scherff will need to become one of the NFL’s elite guards. He has to rise to the level of Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda, Dallas’s Zack Martin and Green Bay’s Josh Sitton and stay on that top shelf for the better part of a decade.
There’s a difference, however, between justifying the pick to the national audience and satisfying McCloughan’s vision. If Scherff is a nice player who joins Williams as a mainstay and becomes something of a Pied Piper for Oline excellence in Washington, McCloughan will look back without regret and consider Scherff the safe pick he envisioned.
As the NFL continues to change and feature big interior defensive linemen with extraordinary athletic gifts, the value of quality guard play increases. Guards are no longer just the tough guys you can find anywhere to complement the center and bookend tackles. Interior defensive pressure — a pass rush right in the quarterback’s face — can destroy an offense. And with every defense emphasizing speed, it’s increasingly difficult to run the ball without guards who are both rugged and agile.
“Dude, this game is evolving,” Jean Francois said. “This game ain’t the same. I understand why people ask about using a high pick at guard. Remember, Chance Warmack (No. 10 overall in 2013 draft) was a high-pick guard. He wasn’t a tackle first like Scherff. He was a straight-up guard. Robert Gallery, who used to play tackle, became a guard, and it turned around his career. So, in this game, it doesn’t matter if you get drafted as this position, or that position, or what the value of the pick is on some chart or spreadsheet. If you fit somewhere, and you have success, and the team is successful because of you, then you were a great pick.”
Or, as Scherff says more succinctly: “I’m going to play wherever they want me to play, and I’m just going to go out there and do my job each and every game.”
That approach won’t inspire much buzz, unless we’re talking about the buzz function on an alarm clock. But there’s something appealing about the rare understated No. 5 pick.
There’s almost no chance Scherff will be a transcendent, face-of-the-franchise star. That’s not his aspiration. He just wants to be a really good football player. Each and every game.
As a piece of McCloughan’s foundation, Scherff is far from flimsy. For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.