By Dan Roth, special to Breaking Burgundy
The season could have ended on a better note for the Washington Redskins, but the same will be true for 30 (or 31) other teams by the time the playoffs are through. All things considered, Washington performed better than anyone projected. That's especially true for the offensive line.
To think the Redskins, sitting at 4-6 after 10 games, would close out the regular season like they did—winning five of their final six games to finish 9-7—was bordering on lunacy at the time. The team’s rally was a testament to its cohesion, which was still intact after being eliminated in the playoffs at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, 35-18.
“It’s just a good atmosphere,” offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus said during the team’s final media availability. “Everyone here is positive. You know you’re going to get better. I mean, we’ve got great guys, great talent. I think we just meld really well together.”
Perhaps no group of players served as a better microcosm for the team’s unity over the course of the season than those tasked with protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins or opening holes for the running game. A season-ending injury to starting left guard Shawn Lauvao in Week 3 followed by Kory Lichtensteiger’s placement on the injured reserve designated to return list a few weeks later turned offensive line coach Bill Callahan into the conductor of a unwanted game of musical chairs.
Spencer Long ultimately filled in for Lauvao at left guard. The former 2014 third round pick in 2014 improved as the season advanced, giving creedence to the idea he coud challenge for the starting spot next season. LeRibeus, who the Redskins drafted in 2012 as a guard, was plugged into the hole at center. Some of his documented struggles carried over to his new position, but the 26-year-old's versatility could help the upcoming free agent stick with Washington.
“Callahan definitely helped with the transition,” LeRibeus said. “I think, overall, it went well … Callahan obviously got us right through the season.”
The adjustments came after Callahan oversaw a series of deft maneuvers to bolster the offensive line heading into the season. Early in training camp, Morgan Moses took over at right tackle spot. That meant first round pick Brandon Scherff, who played tackle at Iowa, moved inside to right guard.
Although the line forfeited six sacks to the Packers’ formidable pass rush, the makeshift unit held up remarkably well for the majority of the season. Washington allowed 27 sacks during the 2015 regular season after a dubious 58 in 2014.
However, the ground game struggled after a strong opening two weeks. The Redskins finished tied for 28th with 3.7 yards per carry. There's room for growth, but that's expected and excitng for a young group that started three players drafted since 2014. Rookie guard Arie Kouandjio provided depth.
Offensive linemen don’t always receive the credit they deserve. It’s often not until a block is missed and a weak link is exposed that a lineman gets individual attention. When the O-line is functioning properly, the focus frequently shifts to the playmakers because the line’s blocking is giving them the time they need to make throws, get open or run free. The Redskins did as well iif not better than most hoped overall in 2015. We'll check the kids' growth chart next year starting in Richmond.
Dan Roth is a freelance sportswriter and Breaking Burgundy contributor. Follow Dan on Twitter @danrothdc.
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