Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at email@example.com.
Improvement No Longer A Goal, But Reality For Redskins’ Offensive Line
ASHBURN – Trent Williams cannot watch the tape of games from his first year with the Washington Redskins.
He doesn’t very much like to watch any of his games from last year, either.
“It’s basically two different players at this point,” Williams said. “I look at last year and I still don’t think that that player last year was the player that you see now.”
Williams has made it his goal to be the best left tackle in the NFL, which a spot he thinks is currently held by Philadelphia’s Jason Peters. He won’t be content until he earns a spot in the Pro Bowl – and even then, Williams may not be satisfied.
Improvement, he has maintained, is important to him. It’s also crucially important to the other four players on the Redskins’ offensive line, which, through six games, has done a remarkably good job of protecting Robert Griffin III.
The quarterback has been sacked 12 times this season, which puts the offensive line tied for 17th in the NFL in allowing sacks to a starting quarterback. Four of those sacks, though, came as Griffin was scrambling out of the pocket, and eight true sacks of Griffin allowed by the line would be the fifth-best mark in the league.
That’s important as the Redskins visit the New York Giants on Sunday – a team Williams said has the best defensive line in the NFL.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Williams said. “Their front four is the reason they win championships. We have to be on our best efforts to neutralize their rush as much as possible.”
A Washington quarterback was sacked 41 times last season, which ranked amongst the bottom third in the league. That’s not entirely on the offensive line; coverage sacks, when the quarterback holds the ball too long and receivers aren’t open, do occasionally occur.
But that’s only happened once to Griffin thus far, which is a marked improvement given the questions that faced the unit entering the season.
“I think the continuity is probably the biggest factor,” said right guard Chris Chester, the only lineman to play every snap last season at his own position. “Guys had a chance to get an offseason and work together, and you know, for me personally, just even further understanding the whole concept of the scheme – it’s a different scheme that we’re trying to do. Then, obviously, it helps to have Robert back there, with what he can do to keep a defense honest.”
Williams, the No. 4 pick in the NFL Draft in 2010, missed time last year because of a high ankle sprain and a four-game suspension for failing a drug test. Kory Lichtensteiger, the left guard, tore multiple ligaments in his right knee in the fifth game and missed the remainder of the season, while right tackle Jammal Brown missed four games with a left hip injury.
Brown, who began the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, has been replaced by Tyler Polumbus for each of the Redskins’ first six games.
“We only had them for about three games, but early in last year when the five of them were playing, I thought they did a pretty good job,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “I think this year they’ve only improved, and I’m excited about them.”
The line’s strength is not only in the passing game. It has helped rookie running back Alfred Morris gain 538 yards this season, good for fourth in the league, and also has been a major role in why the Redskins’ rushing attack, Griffin included, is ranked second.
“When we have the running game working like it is, our play action becomes a lot more effective, and we get a lot more solid protection up front,” Lichtensteiger said.
Williams has played well against Atlanta’s John Abraham and Minnesota’s Jared Allen each of the last two weeks. Now he’ll have to deal with some combination of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul, who publicly warned the Redskins earlier this week to not let Griffin end up on his side of the field.
If this was his first year, Williams would be lost. Now? He’s ready.
“[Experience is] probably the best quality that you can have in this game – just being able to see things that they throw at you at this level,” Williams said. “Just having experience and confidence.”