Williams returns to field at a critical time
Redskins coping with rash of injuries
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.”
Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams said “it feels great to be back” following his return from his four-game suspension.