This just in: 2014 was a rough one for the Washington Redskins.
By the eye test - and the numbers -, the same can be said for the offense line.
That’s where Bill Callahan and Brandon Scherff come in.
After finishing with a dismal 4-12 record, Jay Gruden and his coaching staff have plenty of work ahead of them in order for a chance at a respectable record (aim small) and the NFC East title (dream big). Point to a specific unit for importance and the offensive line arguably tops the list.
The last few seasons haven't been good. Worst of all, the lack of success hasn't blindsided anyone. Heading into his fourth season, quarterback Robert Griffin III has yet to play behind a competent offensive line. Whether previous injuries were caused by constant hits and whether those constant hits were the result of suspect pass protection more than his own decision-making*, RG3 need improvement up front for any shot at returning to the level of play displayed his spectacular rookie season.
Enter Callahan, the noted offensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys plus previous stops with the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders. Callahan was in charge of the vaunted Jets offensive line from 2008 to 2011 that featured three Pro Bowlers. Under the former Raiders head coach, the Jets broke the franchise record for running yards with 2,756 yards. In 2009, Peter King of Sports Illustrated’s The MMQB named Callahan the assistant coach of the year.
Callahan left the Jets for Jerry's World where he later added play-calling duties. He turned the Dallas offensive line into one of the best in the league. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Dallas was the No. 1 ranked run-blocking team this past season, with running backs averaging 4.86 yards per carry. Left tackle Tyron Smith and left guard Zack Martin were named to the Pro Bowl.
Now fans hope Callahan is the elixir that can cure the woes of the Washington offensive line. Despite the presence of All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams, Washington ranked 31st in pass protection by Football Outsiders (allowing 58 total sacks equaled an adjusted sack rate of 9.8%.) In 2014, Robert Griffin III was pressured on 45.7% of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Regardless of Callahan's regular presence, new big bodies were needed. New general manager Scot McCloughan' first ever first-round pick in Washington tackled this issue by drafting Iowa OL Brandon Scherff fifth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. At the time, some questioned the selection, saying McCloughan reached for Scherff and easily could have traded back, acquired additional assets and still landed Scherff.
After watching film of the Redskins O-Line this season, it is easy to see why McCloughan felt he couldn't pass on the aggressive force.
Drafted out of the University of Iowa, Scherff was widely touted as the top offensive lineman in the draft. Scherff played left tackle at Iowa, but has the tools to play any position on the offensive line. Scherff fits the mold of what Callahan wants in his offensive linemen, a mauler in the run game who the athleticism and strength to excel in pass protection.
The initial plan out of Redskins Park has Scherff taking over at right tackle. One reason many felt the fifth pick was too early stemmed from the belief held by several pundits that Scherff is better suited at guard, a position rarely addressed so high. Another reason involves fear about lacking length or lateral quickness needed to keep up with edge defenders.
If ultimately the plan is for Scherff to go inside, that's not terrible because the current candidates are not terribly inspiring, though perhaps better than last season's starter at left guard.
Chris Chester stood out on tape as a glaring weakness. He was consistently poor in pass protection, and struggled to do much in the running game besides hold his ground. He consistently showed poor pad level, and allowed defenders to initiate contact at the line of scrimmage and gain leverage. There were many plays in which defenders got past Chester and blew up the play.
This caused RG3 to panic and scramble, which reduced his throwing mechanics to that of a lesser quarterback. Confidence is key for success and if Griffin is to become the franchise quarterback that Washington so desperately needs, he must regain his. That involves better throwing mechanics, but also better protection to avoid those panicked situations.
It is subsequently easy to see why McCloughan selected (reached?) for Scherff. Under Callahan’s teaching, Scherff projects as a plug-and-play type player in his rookie season, similar to Cowboys guard Zack Martin. With Callahan as his offensive line coach, the Dallas rookie was named to the All-Pro team.
Like Scherff, Martin was a productive left tackle on the college level. He made the successful switch to guard with Dallas, anchoring the left side of the line with left tackle Tyron Smith. The Redskins already have their franchise left tackle in Williams, but need help on the right side.
If Scherff can translate his athleticism and skill in the run game while improving his pass protection techniques, the Redskins will already be significantly better in one area compared to last year. Add in center Kory Lichtensteiger - third in Pass Blocking Efficiency, according to PFF - and the Redskins could have a Top-10 offensive line.
An improved offensive line is one thing. Robert Griffin III honing his passing mechanics is another. Put positives together from both and the quarterback might just have a successful year under center.