The Washington Post

Blockers were front and center at combine

Commanders looked into options to improve their leaky offensive line


indianapol­is — The Washington Commanders spent a significan­t chunk of their one-on-one time at the NFL combine talking with offensive linemen. The team used at least 19 of its 45 formal interviews on prospects across tackle, guard and center, including Northweste­rn tackle Peter Skoronski and Ohio State tackle Paris Johnson Jr., both projected to be top-15 picks.

Formal interviews are not a perfect gauge of interest — a team can like a prospect but not “formal” him — but they do offer insight into what a team prioritize­s with one of its most valuable combine assets.

Overall, Washington seemed to prioritize size, versatilit­y and experience. Thirteen of its 19 offensive line interviews were with seniors, and the team spoke with many prospects who started at multiple positions in college and several who weighed near the top of their position groups, including Ohio State tackle Dawand Jones (6-foot-8, 374 pounds) and Florida guard O’cyrus Torrence (6-5, 330).

This spring, Washington is expected to pick a lineman in the early rounds of the draft as its front office tries to rebuild a line that was one of the NFL’S worst in 2022. The unit seems to have just two starters solidified: left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and guard/tackle Sam Cosmi, whose spot will be dictated by the team’s offseason acquisitio­ns. In interviews, Coach Ron Rivera has said he would like to get younger at center and wouldn’t be concerned about pairing quarterbac­k Sam Howell with a rookie.

“In my three years here, we haven’t had a season where [the interior line] played the majority of our starters in the majority of the games,” Rivera said. “[Improvemen­t is] about staying healthy.”

Washington’s prioritiza­tion of size makes sense. With Kansas City, offensive coordinato­r Eric Bieniemy almost always had tall tackles and guards — only one

regular contributo­r was shorter than 6-5 — and most of them weighed between 304 and 321 pounds. The only true outlier was left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who is 6-8 and weighs 340.

At center, the Chiefs had a type. Austin Reiter (6-3, 300) or Creed Humphrey (6-4, 302) handled nearly every snap of Bieniemy’s tenure. Washington interviewe­d several centers with nearly identical measuremen­ts, including Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz (6-3, 301), Oregon’s Alex Forsyth (6-4, 303), Troy’s Jake Andrews (6-3, 305), Arkansas’ Ricky Stromberg (6-3, 306) and Michigan’s Olu Oluwatimi (6-2, 309).

Though Washington didn’t interview Ohio State’s Luke Wypler (6-3, 303), he would fit the mold. The team also had formal interviews with bigger center prospects who are considered among the best in the class: Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann (6- 6, 313) and TCU’S Steve Avila (6-3, 332), who could move to guard.

If Washington drafts a lineman during the first round, it would probably be a top tackle (Skoronski, Johnson, Georgia’s Broderick Jones) or guard ( Torrence, Avila).

The team could target a top center prospect in the second or third round (Schmitz, Tippmann) or the next tier later on.

Washington has one advantage in evaluating linemen this year. Assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton worked with prospects for a week at the Senior Bowl. He coached several linemen the Commanders interviewe­d in Indianapol­is (Andrews, Oluwatimi, Dawand Jones, North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch) and against several others (Torrence, Schmitz, Avila, Alabama’s Tyler Steen, Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron, Tennessee’s Darnell Wright and Oklahoma’s Wanya Morris).

Wharton said the firsthand experience with players would “help a lot” when it comes to building the draft board and ultimately making picks.

“Sometimes, you only see them on the film and at the combine doing drills,” Wharton added at the Senior Bowl. “I get to see them [up close], how they play football, how they react, how they took something from the classroom and they work that technique on the field. It gives me a chance [to say]: ‘ I like the guy. He did this. He did that.’ ”

In the combine interview room, several players said Commanders offensive line coach John Matsko began their meetings by asking for a physical demonstrat­ion.

He wanted them to break the huddle, walk up to an imaginary line of scrimmage, get into a stance and narrate their presnap evaluation of an opposing defense.

“It was very old-school,” said Stromberg, the Arkansas center. “I enjoyed it.”

Andrews, of Troy, didn’t think much of the assignment because the Trojans used a prostyle offense his last year and huddled often.

Forsyth, of Oregon, felt as if he were being tested because the Ducks ran an up-tempo scheme and rarely huddled.

“He’d show a play on the board, and I’d have to go through my process,” Forsyth said.

Forsyth remembered explaining that before a pass play, he reads the linebacker­s first and then the defensive line. If he can, he looks at the safety rotation, but if the offense is using tempo, “it’s a little bit harder to do that.” Forsyth said he dived into the finer details of schemes, combo blocks and presnap movement that would lead him to flip a protection call.

“[Matsko] was asking me a bunch of questions, showing me some different coaching points as well,” Andrews added. “There were just a few little plays where we talked about positional leverage, hat placement here and there.”

“It was so interestin­g,” said Morris, the Oklahoma tackle, of the Commanders’ process. “I enjoyed the experience.”

 ?? ERIN HOOLEY/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Florida guard O’cyrus Torrence, left, and Arkansas center Ricky Stromberg are potential targets for the Commanders in April’s NFL draft.
ERIN HOOLEY/ASSOCIATED PRESS Florida guard O’cyrus Torrence, left, and Arkansas center Ricky Stromberg are potential targets for the Commanders in April’s NFL draft.

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