ASHBURN -- During the first two weeks of the 2015 regular season, the Washington Redskins' running game dominated. It was all uphill from there.
The drop off occurred right when left guard Shawn Lauvao suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 3. Is that the reason why the Redskins went from averaging 171.5 yards on the ground to a mere 87? Let's call it a factor, just like the issues at center played a factor in the decline.
With Lauvao on the mend, does that mean he'll return to his starting left guard spot? Well, those odds might be Long seeing as Spencer Long impressed head coach Jay Gruden as the 2015 season progressed. However, Washington is also considering Long for the starting center spot where Kory Lichtensteiger and Josh LeRibeus remain the depth chart leaders. Second-year players Arie Kouandjio and Austin Reiter are somewhere in the discussion.
For now, Long's fate is where the discussion takes place, which is quite the climb considering his status on the roster seemed uncertain just one year ago.
"At guard you see the improvement quite a bit," Gruden said of the third-year lineman following Wednesday's Organized Team Activity. "Just the knowledge and the confidence that all the players get going into their second and third year. ...He has already got the athletic ability. He is a big man that can run and he is strong, so now if he brings the confidence and the knowledge of the system with him, he’s going to be very, very good."
Notice all of that praise focused on Long at guard.
"Center is a different story," Gruden continued. "It is brand new to him and he’s finding his way there.”
The real key is that one way or another, Long probably finds a spot in the starting lineup. The 25-year-old has youth on side and with it, hope for better days.
Gruden's hope is that Lauvao is back on the field "shortly" which he thinks will lead to a "great competition" for the left guard spot.
"You know, Shawn was playing at a very high level before he got injured, so I’m not going to pencil in anybody as a starter right now. I want to make sure Shawn gets healthy first. I really like his ability but I love the way Spencer came on at the end of the year. It’s good to have two good guys at that position," the coach said.
In terms of depth, that makes sense. In terms of improving the Redskins offensive line, it might not make sense to keep one of them on the bench.
The Redskins lined Long up at left guard during Wednesday's OTA with Lichtensteiger, who had his own injury issues at center in 2015, at center.
Even before his neck injury, Lichtensteiger, 32, labored at times. LeRibeus filled in and struggled as well, particularly with snaps, but the Redskins did re-sign him to a 1-year deal.
If the Redskins were convinced Lauvao would return to last year's form, it seems logical the team would give Long a longer look at center during these offseason practice. Since that's unclear until Lauvao hits the field and some defenders, Long remains at left guard, which is fine and perhaps wise if the Redskins believe he'll be the long-term answer.
Some outside Redskins Park are hoping Kouandjio, a 2015 fourth round pick, can emerge as the starting left guard. Until the team gives any hint that's possible, that thinking is just wishful.
Between the veterans (Lauvao and Lichtensteiger) and the kids (Long, LeRibeus, Kouandjio, Reiter), the Redskins have several pieces to move around while trying to assemble the offensive line puzzle. Of those options, only two will start on Sunday's. The odds are short that one of them will be Spencer Long.
Breaking Burgundy writer @NeilDalal96 contributed to this article.
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