Once a question, Red­skins’ of­fen­sive line now a strength

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TOMMY CHALK RED­SKINS AT CAR­DI­NALS

Com­ing into the sea­son, the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins’ of­fen­sive line ranked 12th on Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus’ pre­sea­son list of of­fen­sive lines. Re­spectable within the ranks, but not nec­es­sar­ily dom­i­nant.

Is­sues arose when center Kory Licht­en­steiger was placed on the in­jured re­serve list be­cause of a calf in­jury on Sept. 27. The trou­ble wors­ened when left tackle Trent Wil­liams was sus­pended Nov. 1 for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s sub­stance abuse pol­icy.

But, in­stead, the of­fen­sive line hummed on, and may have even got­ten bet­ter.

Since Wil­liams’ sus­pen­sion, the Red­skins in­serted Ty Nsekhe into the left tackle po­si­tion, and didn’t miss a beat. Guard Spencer Long switched over to center, and it’s work­ing. Depth, per­haps the grand­est question for the group, has turned out to be a strength.

So far this sea­son, the Red­skins’ of­fen­sive line has al­lowed just 14 sacks, the sec­ond-fewest in the NFL. Con­sid­er­ing quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins has thrown the fifth-most passes, it makes the lack of sacks all the more in­cred­i­ble. Cousins has got­ten sacked just once ev­ery 31 pass at­tempts.

“They’ve pro­tected well,” Cousins said. “That’s what we ask them to do, and it’s not an easy task against some re­ally good pass rush­ers and some re­ally good schemes, but they’ve pro­tected well. They work hard on a day-in, day-out ba­sis to be able to do that.”

Right tackle Mor­gan Moses is proud of his block­ing unit. Moses, who has been deal­ing with a nag­ging an­kle in­jury for the last sev­eral weeks, preaches the im­por­tance of the role each of his fel­low line­men pos­sesses. He says the guys take a “next man up” ap­proach when the line op­tions thin be­cause of in­jury or sus­pen­sion. He also cred­its of­fen­sive line coach Bill Cal­la­han, who he says is the best of­fen­sive line coach in the NFL.

“It’s al­most like giv­ing us a cheat sheet, you know?” Moses said of hav­ing Cal­la­han. “When you got some­thing like

that and a great group of guys that are will­ing to work, it makes it a lot eas­ier.”

Noth­ing ap­pears to phase the line. Fac­ing the Min­nesota Vik­ings’ elite pass-rush­ers with a new left tackle in Nsekhe? No prob­lem. They only al­lowed one sack. A new run­ning back to block for in Robert Kel­ley? No prob­lem. They’ve helped him gain 358 yards in his first four starts.

“Just over­all, I don’t re­ally think there is a weak­ness in their game,” coach Jay Gru­den said. “They’re good pass-pro­tec­tors, they’re good run play­ers. They’re smart. They can pull. So I don’t re­ally see any­thing that is hurt­ing them.”

“Spencer Long is mak­ing a smooth tran­si­tion to center,” Gru­den con­tin­ued. “Brandon [Scherff] is con­tin­u­ally get­ting bet­ter. Mor­gan [Moses] is fight­ing through the in­jury, but he’s still play­ing at a high level, and ob­vi­ously Shawn Lau­vao is a con­sis­tent plug-in guy who is play­ing ex­tremely well, too.”

Moses says the key to their suc­cess is the com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trust they op­er­ate with. Fol­low­ing the Red­skins’ poor de­fen­sive ef­fort to start the sea­son be­fore bounc­ing back against the Bal­ti­more Ravens, line­backer Will Comp­ton stressed the im­por­tance of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in his team­mates’ suc­cess. Moses agreed.

“It’s very im­por­tant be­cause the de­fense mixes up looks, ro­tates their safeties so we can’t see the blitz com­ing,” Moses said.

Those quick forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion al­low the Red­skins to make the ap­pro­pri­ate ad­just­ments, and, more times than not, it’s work­ing.

“[We got to] keep up the ag­gres­sive­ness, but re­ally it’s just all about bal­ance and mak­ing sure we keep the de­fense guess­ing,” Long said.

The most im­pres­sive thing may come down to how well Nsekhe has played as a re­place­ment for Wil­liams. Moses spoke highly of Wil­liams, say­ing that since Moses joined the team in 2014, Wil­liams has as­sisted him in mul­ti­ple ways. He’s shown Moses how to block in spe­cific sit­u­a­tions, go­ing over the play­book with him, even pro­vid­ing write ups for de­fen­sive line­men Moses may face in up­com­ing games.

But the jour­ney­man Nsekhe has been able to com­pe­tently re­place Wil­liams dur­ing the All-Pro’s sus­pen­sion.

“He’s a great guy,” Moses said of Nsekhe. “Ob­vi­ously, if you see him, he’s a huge hu­man be­ing. And he’s strong, man. He knows the game and he’s just been wait­ing for his mo­ment. His mo­ment has came and he’s been able to thrive on that situation.”

“We have got good depth,” Gru­den said. “Ob­vi­ously you lose a left tackle that’s the best left tackle in foot­ball and you re­place him with an­other guy who is play­ing at a very high level — that says a lot about the depth of this foot­ball team.”

Nsekhe is es­sen­tially a start­ing tackle now, and when Wil­liams re­turns from sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing the Red­skins’ game against the Ari­zona Car­di­nals, Nsekhe gives Wash­ing­ton op­tions. Nsekhe could move to right tackle to give Moses a break and help him re­cover. If a guard goes down, ei­ther Nsekhe or Wil­liams could fill in.

This elite-level of play has been a re­sult of the Red­skins’ fo­cus on the of­fen­sive line in the last few years. Moses was drafted with the 66th over­all pick in the 2014 draft. Long was se­lected 12 picks later. Scherff was se­lected with the fifth over­all pick a year later. Wil­liams has been a main­stay for the last sev­eral sea­sons and Lau­vao was signed as a free agent in 2014. Nsekhe bounced around the Arena and Cana­dian Foot­ball Leagues be­fore fi­nally land­ing in Wash­ing­ton.

That makes the core of the Red­skins line rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced, some­thing that doesn’t go un­no­ticed with Moses.

“You got Trent and Shawn as the savvy vets,” Moses said. “The rest of us are year two and three in. So if you look at that, man, there’s plenty of growth for us ahead.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Wash­ing­ton Red­skins center Spencer Long switched over from guard ear­lier this sea­son and the shift has worked out well. De­spite in­juries to center Kory Licht­en­steiger and the sus­pen­sion of left tackle Trent Wil­liams, the depth of the of­fen­sive line has trans­formed from one of the team’s question marks to a strength.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Red­skins tackle Mor­gan Moses says com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trust they op­er­ate with is the key to the of­fen­sive line’s suc­cess and turn­around.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.