Debugging the Skins O-Line

The starting right guard is new to the system. The starting left guard is new to, well, starting. And the left tackle hasn't played in four weeks. His backups have, which is why he must return. Now. The Redskins solved the question of who will start at quarterback in the opener (making the right decision), but they haven't eased any concerns about the offensive line. Not yet.

Washington allowed five sacks in Thursday's 28-14 loss to New England. Granted, at least three of those sacks came against backups at left tackle, a spot Chris Samuels will anchor starting next week. Rookie Reggie Coleman clearly has a lot to learn and isn't ready to contribute. Alex Sulfsted has mostly played guard this summer and can't be expected to be a strong backup. Kipp Vickers at least has experience there, but the waiver wire will be scrutinized this weekend, looking for veteran backups.

We've felt all along that the line was a question mark--a bigger one than the quarterbacks. We saw what will happen during the regular season when the protection snaps. Would it have mattered if Shane Matthews had been behind center in the first half rather than Danny Wuerffel? Probably not. Remember, Wuerffel runs better than Matthews.

If the line breaks down, these average quarterbacks will look dreadful. Thankfully, Samuels will return. But will that be enough? Remember how long it took the line to mesh last season because of the constant shuffling? That was a big reason the Redskins started 0-5. Samuels and left guard Ross Tucker haven't worked together and right guard Brenden Stai and Jon Jansen have spent only three days on the same line. And Stai is learning a new offense. At least he looked like he'll provide help once he's comfortable. But when will that be?

''We're not good enough pass blockers to throw 50 times a game,'' Redskins coach Steve Spurrier said. ''Maybe we'll look back and say this was good for us at this time.''

Maybe that means he realizes this offense must go through running back Stephen Davis. The problem here is, there's no Walter Rasby. The tight end will likely miss at least the first three games with a knee injury. His blocking last year keyed the outside runs. Washington's best blocking tight end now is Zeron Flemister. And that's a scary thought.

When asked when he thought the line would be ready, Jansen said, ''Sept. 8. One o'clock.''

There's no easy way to speed the process. They just have to play together for a while and learn each other's strengths and weaknesses, knowing when their linemate will need help and when he won't. Communication keys any line. And the best communication only comes from familiarity. The good news is that Arizona has a weak defensive line and is the best team for Washington's offense to face. The Cardinals also have a weak secondary.

But even Samuels said, ''It'll be tough to [fully mesh] with guys shuffling around. We have to stay confident.''

They also have to do something else: stay healthy. If anything happens to Samuels or Jansen, the Redskins' offense will collapse.

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