From the guys in the trenches to those of skill positions, every NFL team is composed of multiple positional groups. If one begins to struggles, the rest of the franchise can falter. Breaking Burgundy is ready to take you through each unit battle analyzing those expected to make the team and those fighting for a starting role. In honor of Scot McCloughan's inside-out theory, you begin to re-tool a team by winning the line of scrimmage, we start with the offensive line.
Three of the five starting offensive line positions are locked in for the long haul with Williams, Scherff, and Moses. Long is also a lock to make the roster because of his youth and potential to play both left guard as well as center if needed. Nsekhe listed as a lock may surprise some given he was a toss up to make the roster last offseason, but general manager McCloughan said on ESPN 980 that the 6-foot-8 tackle is one of the Redskins five best offensive linemen even though he does not start.
In the mix: Takoby Cofield, Cody Booth, Arie Kouandjio, Shawn Lauvao, Kory Lichtensteiger
Washington is most likely going to keep four tackles on their 53-man roster and because they gave a relatively large amount of guaranteed money to undrafted free agents Cofield and Booth, they figure to have a shot at making the team. Kouandjio is almost a lock because of his youth, strength, and being McCloughan's own draft pick but he currently sits as the fourth or fifth best interior option. Lauvao and Lichtensteiger could easily be cap and age casulties, especially if the Redskins need roster spots elsewhere. Lauvao has several question marks coming off of five surgeries between both legs and ankles, On the other hand, Lichtensteiger is closer to a lock because he is still the best option at center. Expect all but Booth, and possibly Lauvao, to make the team.
Work to do: Josh LeRibeus, Al Bond, Kevin Bowen, Austin Reiter, Nila Kasitati
LeRibeus simply did not pan out to be a decent starter or backup with the Redskins despite his third round selection. The SMU interior lineman was Washington's only option at backup center with Long still learning, but with that no longer the case LeRibeus is likely on the outside looking in. Despite Bowen's team high 6-foot-9 stature and Kasitati's singing voice that was on display at rookie skits, the latter four are likely fighting for practice squad spots.
Biggest concern: Too many average talents at left guard with no elite presence to play next to Trent Williams.
Between Long, Lauvao, and Kouandjio, the Redskins have three different players they could plug in at left guard and get approximately the same production. Long does everything fine, but does not excel at too many aspects of the game. Lauvao is experienced and seemed to excel in Bill Callahan's power run scheme in the short sample size of two games last year, but there will be question marks about how the 28-year old can execute after a serious injury. Kouandjio boasts extraordinary strength and would thrive in plays where he is not asked to move much, but his short arms and inefficient mobility provide a weakness defenses will tee off against.
The path for Washington to make decisions about left guard goes through Lauvao's health, which could make the the situation extremely complicated or simple. If the Arizona State product is not healthy and/or is not playing at the same level he was before his ankle injury last year, then he should either be cut or the emergency interior lineman behind Long and Kouandjio.
However, if Lauvao is firing on all cylinders and proves to be noticeably better than Long, the Redskins will be forced to start Lauvao against the Steelers. The reason this gets complicated is if Long is too good not to be on the field. If so, if Long can play the center position at the same level as Lichtensteiger, Washington could opt for their center of the future to start the season in the middle. Even if Long is not quite at Lichtensteiger's level, as long as he is snapping the ball on time and in the right location as well as calling out the correct assignments, it may be worth getting younger at the position. With so many factors in play, left guard and center is certainly the biggest question mark and position battle ongoing in the Nation's Capital.
Breaking Burgundy's Week 1 Projection: Williams, Long, Lichtensteiger, Scherff, Moses; Nsekhe, Lauvao, Kouandjio, Cofield.
In today's NFL, medicine and surgeries have become fine arts where it is expected for a football player to easily return for any injury in one year's time. I am not sold that will be the case for Lauvao because he had complications with his original ankle surgery that forced him to go under the knife four more times. The Hawaii native could easily prove doubters wrong with an impressive preseason. I'm skeptical and don't have him making the roster on my personal projection. Despite the norm to carry 9-10 offensive linemen. Washington will probably need an extra roster spot on defense. To balance things out, both interior linemen Reiter and Kasitati could be placed on the practice squad.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilDalal96.
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