Skins line powers offense

Marty Schottenheimer predicted it before the season. But the early evidence made him look silly. Now the offensive line is blossoming. Now Schottenheimer's boast that the line could be the team's strength looks accurate. The good news for the Redskins: it could get even better.

''I told guys two months ago that I've been around some good lines,'' said 12-year veteran left guard Dave Szott, ''but this has the ability to be the best. I'm real excited about what the line is doing.

''We have two great young tackles--they're your cornerstones--and a bunch of experience in the middle.''

The Redskins' line is doing everything the team needs: protecting the quarterback and opening holes in the running game. They can play smashmouth or they can use their quickness. They have a go-to side with lots of beef (the right) and a dependable side with plenty of quickness (the left).

They've also produced against two solid fronts in the past two games against New York and Seattle. The Seahawks were confident it could stop Washington's running attack with its front seven.

Wrong. Washington gained 230 yards rushing, including 142 by Stephen Davis, who had six carries of 10 yards or more thanks to gaping holes.

''There's no question this is one of the better lines I've been a part of,'' Redskins right guard Ben Coleman said. ''We have the experience, size and athleticism and it's a physical unit. We work hard, it's a smart group and we make very few mistakes. That's what you have to have. Right now we're beginning to jell and we know what each other is going to do. As we continue to play we'll get better and better.''

The interior of the line is the biggest reason behind the improvement. Szott had to work back into top playing shape after missing all but one game last season. Coleman had to overcome a preseason knee injury, which took much longer to heal than expected. And center Cory Raymer had to adapt to a new set of line calls, not to mention many changing of the guards.

''I'm playing measurably better each week,'' said Szott, who did not sign until Aug. 19. ''I've got my strength and weight back up to where I'm moving people around. My pass blocking wasn't an issue, but I didn't think I was moving people the way I'd like. That's happening now.''

Raymer had to master calling out line signals in a new offense, and to new people. He did not play last season, tearing ligaments in his knee. And the last two guards he played with were Keith Sims and Tre Johnson, both cut after last season.

Raymer must determine which players are blitzing or coming on stunts, shouting out who must pick them up. A wrong call leaves a clear path to the quarterback, or running back.

''When we started in the offseason it was, 'This is the way you do it on paper,' '' Raymer said. ''But once you get on the field that's not the way it works or the way it's going to be. For a while I had to put out the feelers: Do I have to call to these guys or to these guys?''

Szott said, ''Cory has it down now. He's more comfortable so when they try to throw different things at us, he's able to sort through it and point us in the right direction.''

It also helps that the Redskins finally have the unit they want on the field. Coleman is the fifth player to start at right guard since training camp. But he's the one Washington wanted in there all along because of his size (332 pounds). Coleman is even bigger than right tackle Jon Jansen (311 pounds).

''The right side in there with Ben is big, strong and physical,'' Schottenheimer said. ''And the [left] side is very athletic. Yet the two on the right side are good athletes as well.''

''Athletically they're the best group I've worked with,'' Redskins quarterback Tony Banks said. ''There's such a great mixture of experience and youth. Hopefully they'll be intact for a while.''

Because of that combination, Washington can mix up its blocking schemes. The Redskins like to pound teams, but they can also slant its blocks, as they often did against Carolina, negating the Panthers' quickness.

''It allows us to change up how we attack teams,'' Jansen said. ''One week we have to be a power team, the next week we're on our toes running around. It allows us to do so much more in our offense.''

And it allows others to look good.

''It makes my job that much easier when I'm going out and picking a hole,'' Davis said. ''They open it up so wide.''

John Keim covers the Redskins for the Journal Newspapers and is a correspondent for Pro Football Weekly.

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