Wil­liams re­turns to field at a crit­i­cal time

Red­skins cop­ing with rash of in­juries

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TOMMY CHALK

Fol­low­ing a four-game sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s drug pol­icy, Red­skins left tackle Trent Wil­liams re­turned to team drills Wed­nes­day.

“It’s been hard, it’s been tough,” Wil­liams said of his sit­u­a­tion. “It was ex­tremely hard to deal with. But it feels great to be back. Back with my team­mates, back on the field.”

The All-Pro line­man has been a main­stay on the Red­skins’ of­fen­sive line for the last seven sea­sons, be­com­ing the undis­puted leader of an oth­er­wise in­ex­pe­ri­enced line. Cen­ter Spencer Long, drafted by the Red­skins in 2014, didn’t get a full-time po­si­tion un­til last sea­son. Right guard Bran­don Scherff joined the team in 2015 af­ter he was se­lected with the fifth-over­all pick. Third-year right tackle Mor­gan Moses played his first full sea­son with the Red­skins just last year.

Wil­liams, 28, pro­vides a needed vet­eran pres­ence.

“I re­mem­ber when I first got here, Trent, ev­ery day, sat down and made sure I knew what to do with the play­book or dif­fer­ent tech­niques,” Moses said. “He gave me ad­vice on how to block some­body or [pro­vided] a write up on a guy I was go­ing against. It’s those things, when it trick­les from the top and trick­les down to the bot­tom, it makes it a lot eas­ier.”

“Glad to have one of our best play­ers back,” quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins said. “I know he’s ready to go and I love to see his ur­gency and ex­cite­ment com­ing back.”

Wil­liams’ re­turn comes at a crit­i­cal mo­ment. The Red­skins are sud­denly deal­ing with a rash of of­fen­sive line in­juries.

On Wed­nes­day, Long, left guard Shawn Lau­vao and tackle Ty Nsekhe sat out of prac­tice. Long en­tered the league’s con­cus­sion pro­to­col af­ter leav­ing the Red­skins’ game Sun­day against the Arizona Car­di­nals in the first half. Lau­vao is deal­ing with a groin in­jury, while Nsekhe — who filled in for Wil­liams at the left tackle po­si­tion

dur­ing his sus­pen­sion — was out with an an­kle in­jury. In ad­di­tion, Scherff was lim­ited at prac­tice with an an­kle in­jury.

“We have a lot of con­cern, but hope­fully these guys have some time to get some treat­ment and the ma­jor­ity of these guys will be up and run­ning hope­fully to­mor­row or Fri­day or Satur­day,” coach Jay Gru­den said. “But, we’ll have to wait and see.”

The Red­skins’ of­fen­sive line wel­comed back another vet­eran Wed­nes­day: cen­ter Kory Licht­en­steiger, the Red­skins’ starter be­fore he suf­fered a calf in­jury prior to the sea­son. Licht­en­steiger took part in prac­tice, his first in just over two months, and was des­ig­nated for re­turn from the in­jured re­serve list. The Red­skins now have a 21-day win­dow to take the 31-year-old off of the in­jured re­serve list.

If Long is not able to play against the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, Licht­en­steiger may be avail­able.

“We have got to make sure he’s OK,” Gru­den said. “He’s go­ing to go through prac­tice to­day and to­mor­row. He looked OK to­day, so that’s a good sign.”

Gru­den said Licten­steiger can play cen­ter or guard, which could be a plus for the Red­skins if Lau­vao is not able to go against the Ea­gles. In that case, it’s pos­si­ble John Sullivan will suit up as cen­ter while Licten­steiger fills in at left guard. On Wed­nes­day, sec­ond-year line­man Arie Kouand­jio took the ma­jor­ity of the snaps at the guard po­si­tion.

Health is cer­tainly not a con­cern for Wil­liams. One of the ben­e­fits of his month-long sus­pen­sion is that Wil­liams missed four weeks of wear and tear on his body. He’s health­ier and fresher for Week 14, he said, than at any time in his ca­reer.

“That’s the only sil­ver lin­ing in it,” Wil­liams said. “I had in­juries that I was deal­ing with, and I was able to heal up all of those. I even went back to do­ing my off­sea­son work­outs. I was even able to gain a few pounds of mus­cle. Phys­i­cally, I’ve been able to get back into top shape and get healthy.”

Wil­liams and Licht­en­steiger, if he ends up play­ing, would give the Wash­ing­ton line a much dif­fer­ent look Sun­day than the unit that strug­gled in Arizona just a few days ago.

As­sum­ing all are healthy — or, at least can play through their in­juries — the Red­skins’ rea­son­ably have seven or eight starter-level line­men.

That depth could be cru­cial in Philadel­phia, where the Red­skins will face two Pro Bowlers in tackle Fletcher Cox and line­backer Con­nor Bar­win.

“[Depth’s] a big part of the game, es­pe­cially when you’re go­ing against a front-four like we are against the Ea­gles that can re­ally rush that passer,” Cousins said. “You need five guys, and prefer­ably six or seven, who can re­ally play. And that’s part of the rea­son I think we’ve been able to weather the storm of los­ing Trent and los­ing Kory, it’s be­cause of hav­ing that depth.”

But don’t be­lieve that Wil­liams will be an op­tion at the guard po­si­tion de­spite Nsekhe’s suc­cess at the left tackle po­si­tion. Wil­liams snick­ered at the ru­mors that were cir­cu­lat­ing that he may be moved to the left guard po­si­tion to al­low Nsekhe to con­tinue play­ing at left tackle. Wil­liams said there hadn’t been any in­ter­nal dis­cus­sion about mov­ing him to the guard po­si­tion.

Wil­liams is just ea­ger to get back on the foot­ball field.

Sun­day’s loss to the Car­di­nals cost the Red­skins their grip on a play­off spot with just four games left. Wash­ing­ton is a halfgame be­hind the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers in the race for the fi­nal seed in the NFC, and they no longer con­trol their own des­tiny. Wil­liams knows he can make a big dif­fer­ence in how the next month of the sea­son plays out.

“Any time I step on the field, I feel re­spon­si­ble to play the best foot­ball that I can,” Wil­liams said. “I feel like I was play­ing some of the best foot­ball out there in my ca­reer be­fore this sus­pen­sion. Hope­fully I can get back to that.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Red­skins tackle Trent Wil­liams said “it feels great to be back” fol­low­ing his re­turn from his four-game sus­pen­sion.

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