Q&A With: Mark Schlereth Part I

The ESPN analyst and former Redskin shares his thoughts on Washington's offseason moves, and their prospects for this season. He also lets you know what he thinks of Chris Samuels. Tomorrow, he'll talk about what he thinks of the NFC East.

Warpath Insiders: In general, how much better are the Redskins -- we know how much better the staff is, but what about the personnel?

Mark Schlereth: Offensively, Clinton Portis is a home run threat. That's what Joe Gibbs wanted. He wanted a back who could carry the ball. Though Clinton is slight in stature, he's very strong and when I'd talk to Mike Shanahan or other guys, they'd say that Clinton has the body feel of a 230-pound back. Everyone to a man said that to me, that when you tackle him it feels like 235 pounds. He's a very thick-legged strong young man. He's a guy who will hold up and he runs vey well between the tackles. He's gotten better each year. A lot of times those speed guys want to rely on busting it outside. In this day and age there are defensive linemen who run 4.8s so you're not going to outrun people to the sideline. Clinton has become a good downhill runner. It took him eight to 12 games his rookie year to get in that mode. So his game has evolved. Part of that is being smart enough to recognize your weaknesses and adjust your game.

WI: So you liked the trade?

MS: I like that the Redskins got what they needed to take pressure off the quarterbacks. They have bookends as far as the offensive tackles go -- they have two of the best in the league in Jansen and Samuels. And the inside three guys, you can just battle with. I'm living testament to the fact that you can play with guys in there who aren't great athletes. You can slide your protection to take pressure off them. It's the tackles you have to have a premium on. If you have a good conceptual offense, good teamwork on the offensive line -- there's no one better at doing that than Joe Bugel -- and you have the tackles, then you have the pieces to the puzzle. Clinton was that missing piece.

WI: What do you think about the defense?

MS: The line is a question mark. A lot of teams nowadays are going to a 3-4 defense and putting a premium on hybrid linebackers/defensive ends, the Terrell Suggs who can line up at linebacker and rush as a nickel end. A guy like that can get 12 sacks for you. New England created confusion with three linemen, four linemen, five linemen. They got big plays and sacks off that and still played sound defense. There's an evolutionary process going on. Do the Redskins have that personnel now? Probably not. The line has been weak the last couple of years. I really like Sean Taylor. He's NFL ready so they improved there, but they lost Champ. Defensively they'll still struggle, but if you put points on the board and control the clock with the running game, which is what Gibbs is and always has been about, then it takes a lot of pressure off that defense and the weaker front. In this day and age with free agency, you can't address the needs of the entire team so you decide what your personnel is and the best way to win games with the personnel you have. Joe did a good job of assessing where the team is. He said, 'This is what we need to be to be a playoff team. We have to develop a running game to take the pressure off. We have good receivers. Let's make the offense great and let's try to control the clock and keep the defense fresh.' They will give up touchdowns, but they do have enough playmakers to give the offense turnovers. I look at them as a wild card contending team.

WI: Chris Samuels agreed with the critics who said he had an off year this past season. What do you see in him and how much will the coaching change help him?

MS: I agree that Chris didn't have his best year, but a lot of situations you have to dump on that coaching staff. I dump it on Spurrier. To me he did not understand the NFL. You can't line up five offensive linemen with the athletes you have on the defensive line and expect to be successful. Even a top notch left tackle . . . you can't leave them one on one game in an dgame out and expect them to have success. It's just unrealistic and you have to do things in different ways. You don't have to give him help every time but what you have to do is, through your offensive plan and schemes, you have to give a lineman a chance to change things up. You have to throw enough three-step drops to allow them to get after a guy, to run block on a passing down. And you have to have enough five-step drops and a few seven-step drops and occasionally give them inside help. Sometimes line a tight end over there. You have to change things up -- that's your responsibility as a staff, to do enough things to keep the quarterback protected. It's moronic that the Redskins did not do enough of that. And when you look at it, who's paying the price: a young Patrick Ramsey who becomes gun shy in the pocket because of it. This staff knows they have to keep the QB clean. A guy like Mark Brunell, he's like peanut brittle at this point in his career just because of his age. He's as tough as there is, but over time you become like peanut brittle so keeping him clean is paramount and they know that. Certainly there are ways to take the pressure off Samuels and get him back in his groove. You don't just throw them out there on seven-step drops 16 times in a row -- your quarterback will die. I don't care if it's Samuels or Pace or Ogden you'll give up pressures. At the beginning of last year when they were hot they were running a little more than passing it. Next thing you know they scrapped it. I had Ramsey in the NFL Live studio a couple months ago and that poor kid, I felt bad for him. What a beating he took.

WI: How are your knees?

MS: I'm OK. I survive. I walk around fine. They don't bend well, but what else do I need to do other than walk? It's not like I have to do anything. I walk three or four times a week and do some light lifting.

WI: You do a good job on the air; how much do you enjoy what you do?

MS: It's a great job and a great place to work. I quit doing a radio show because I was only home two days a week. I'm in the process of producing offensive lin skills videos. I thought about doing that for six years but I had so much work that I put it off and put it off. When I quit the radio show [in Denver] I said I wanted to attack some things I've wanted to do. I'm glad I waited because my TV knowledge will help create the best and most extensive training tapes. With other training tapes -- I bought a lot of these -- you get eight minutes of good information presented in a 45-minute package. My tapes are no longer than 15-20 minutes. All our video stuff will be voice tracked over with freeze frames and slow motion. We'll show the stance, for example, from the front side and from the side and from the back so I can show you how your foot is supposed to be positioned. It's already going well.

If you want to learn more about offensive line play, visit Mark's website at olineskills.com.

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