ASHBURN – Apologies for the weekend delay, but we are back in action. The first three keys to Washington Redskin success focused on a lot of numbers, statistics and percentages. And we have covered quite a bit of material over the three-day period before the weekend, including:
However the next step, or key in my formula – while relying on the inclusion of stats – concentrates more on the intangibles of the game.
We will get down to the nitty-gritty and separate the men from the boys, so to speak. But enough with the introduction – Let’s get to it…
PART IV: Solidify a consistent offensive line to protect your ‘Investment,’ AKA: RGIII
The topic de jour is the offensive line and its crucial role in not only the task of winning, but protecting the franchise’s enormous investment in its new offensive leader – Robert Griffin III. Washington’s offensive line gave up 41 sacks in 2011, which averages out to approximately 2.5 per game. While that is an improvement over the Jason Campbell era, the Redskin O-line must do a better job of protecting its QB this season. Yes, Griffin III has the wheels to escape pressure when needed, but the goal is to keep him in or around the pocket as much as possible unless the play calls for him to run. However, let us take into account RGIII’s scrambling ability for the moment and suggest that he may bring that sack-number (41) down to 31 on his own by escaping several sacks – whereas Rex Grossman and John Beck did not possess the talent to do so last season. That still leaves approximately two sacks per game.
I saw a recent online photo of Griffin III in his practice jersey and helmet. It was a photo of his profile – standing sideways, not a Facebook or Twitter ‘profile.’ He looked beyond thin. In fact, he looked downright skinny is this pic. While RGIII has great strength, he cannot afford to take too many hits to his midsection without enduring some punishment, in my opinion. Therefore, both the veterans and rookies on the Redskin O-line need to do everything and anything in their power to keep Justin Tuck and the other pass rushers on Washington’s 2012 schedule from knocking his block off. So, what is an acceptable “sack-number” for the Redskin offensive line to allow? My thought is 25, which equates to about 1.5 sacks per game. When it comes to the ‘law of averages,’ realistically this would mean the O-line would have games where it might allow three or four sacks. But in other games, it would have to completely shut out defenses from getting to Griffin III. Can this group of men in the trenches accomplish that task? Let us take a look at my projected starting O-line for 2012 and find out.
Left to Right:
OT – Trent Williams: After coming off of a sophomore slump of a year, Williams needs to immediately prove he is worthy of his early first-round draft status from 2010. The four-game suspension for substance abuse concerned me. However, Williams’ tendency to commit holding and false start penalties at crucial moments the past two seasons concerned me just the same. He needs to pitch two or three shutouts ASAP or Willie Smith could quickly replace him.
LG – Josh LeRibeus: This kid impressed Mike Shanahan from the get-go and I believe he will start ahead of Kory Lichtensteiger, who is still recovering from knee surgery last fall. LeRibeus has ‘old school Redskin’ written all over him – rough, tough and nasty. Those are the exact characteristics you want in a Washington Redskin O-lineman. And the rookie can also play all three interior positions if needed.
C – Will Montgomery: The center had a decent year at center after replacing long-time starter Casey Rabach. Montgomery held defensive tackles at bay for the majority of the season, but did allow some pressure sacks up the middle during the latter part of 2011. A couple of false starts in opposition territory were also a concern. But hopefully he has grown out of that and can perform consistently in 2012. I like the guy and believe he has the talent and drive to become better than Rabach was during his time in DC.
RG – Chris Chester: 6’3”/315lbs./Age: 29… The entire right side of the line had trouble towards the middle to latter half of 2011 with the pass rush. However, the three men seemed to find chemistry during the last five games of the season. Chester improved during this time and could solidify the starting role in camp soon. But, if Shanahan does not feel absolutely confident in him, I see the possibility of starting Josh LeRibeus (see above @LG) instead on the right side. While I already have the rookie starting at LG, The Head Coach had the LeRibeus play all three interior positions at rookie mini-camp last month. LeRibeus excelled immediately. Do not be surprised to see the young stud out of SMU switch back starting roles at both left and right guard early on in 2012.
RT – Jamal Brown: 6’6”/313lbs. At 31 years-old Brown is nearing his twilight years in the NFL. Brown has been solid at right tackle at times but past injuries from 2009: Hip, sports hernia and a 2011 groin injury have to concern the coaching staff. Fortunately, Shanahan drafted *Tom Compton in April, who has been considered an absolute steal in the 7th round for Washington, for insurance and youth. Look for Compton to compete for a starting role. If Compton does not win out, look for him to step in by game 5 as the starter.
RT – *Tom Compton: 6’6”/314lbs. Rookie out of South Dakota. (see above)
OT – James Lee: 6’4”/305lbs. Only 26 years old, in his 5th season out of South Carolina State.
RG – Maurice Hurt: 6’3”/320lbs. Second-year man (Age 24) out of Florida who struggled at times stopping the pass rush. Yet he showed potential. Sometimes it just takes one solid camp after a tough rookie season to find confidence and chemistry with ones teammates in the NFL.
C, G – Eric Cook: 6’6”/320lbs. Only 24 years old, Second-year man out of New Mexico – plays multiple interior positions.
The left side looks to be the strongest once again. However, if Willie Smith can handle left guard duties and LeRibeus moves to the right side, this could become a much stronger line as the season progresses. I just do not believe the coaches will start Smith immediately. Compton and LeRibeus could make this O-line one of the best ones we have seen in a decade. And yes, that sack-number would drop in dramatic fashion, perhaps to 25; giving Griffin III the time he needs in the pocket to move the ball downfield during 2012.
Redskin quarterbacks passed for 3,733 yards in 2011. And the backfield rushed for a total of 1,614 yards. Washington moved the ball very well between the 20s, behind solid offensive-line-play. But the O-line committed many penalties on 3rd down and the ‘Skins lost out on valuable red-zone scoring opportunities. The offense bolstered an overall 37% conversion-rate on third down. However, in third-and-short (3rd and 1-3 yards) that number increased to 55%. But, in third-and-medium or long situations, it dipped down drastically to about 32%.
Perhaps, I have swallowed too much of the ‘Kool-Aid,’ but I do believe Redskins Nation will see strong improvement in this season’s offensive line’s performance. The final job these linemen need to accomplish is keeping control of the football for as long as possible. In 2012, Washington was 5-3 when they won time of possession, and 0-8 when they lost it. That is perhaps the most definitive statistic of any we have discussed over the past four days. Sleep on this one and we will finish tomorrow. Hail Skins.
Tuesday’s topic: Stay Healthy…
-Todd C. Smith
Follow Todd on Twitter @tcsmitty