With training camp set to begin next month, Redskins.com previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing today with the team's offensive line.
The Washington Redskins will enter Richmond with their starting five offensive lineman mostly locked into place, anchored by left tackle Trent Williams and Spencer Long at center, entering his first full season at the position, all under the direction of Bill Callahan.
ROSTER SUBTRACTION(S):- Kory Lichtensteiger
- John Sullivan
- Chase Roullier
- Ronald Patrick
- John Kling
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
After eight seasons in the NFL, and seven with the Washington Redskins, Kory Lichtensteiger retired in the offseason, marking the only significant loss to an offensive line unit that for the last couple of years has remained a consistent, close position group.
"After much thought and consideration, I have decided to retire from the National Football League," Lichtensteiger said in a statement. "I am grateful beyond words to the Washington Redskins organization. I would like to thank the ownership as a whole and specifically Dan Snyder and his family for the opportunity to play the bulk of my career here in Washington."
Lichtensteiger, who had served as the team's center since 2014, started there for three games to open the 2016 season, but a calf injury against the Giants at MetLife Stadium put him on Injured Reserve, moving Spencer Long to center, a position he would thrive in for the rest of the season.
That game became of microcosm of the Redskins' talent level across the line and the depth they had waiting on the sideline. When Long moved to center, and with Shaun Lauvao also injured during the game, Trent Williams, the All-Pro left tackle, moved to left guard, the first time he had played the position in the NFL, and the transition was seamless. Tackle Ty Nsekhe moved left tackle, and the team would go on to collect its first victory of the season.
Nsekhe would eventually play a greater role down the stretch, subbing in for Williams and playing 385 snaps at left tackle when the Williams was suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse program. Nsekhe, who coaches believe could be a starter on another team, signed with the Redskins for another year this offseason, and will continue to be a valuable part of a group that returns its starters from last season.
Williams will lead "Hogs 2.0" (a moniker he applied to the group last summer after he invited it down to his training facility in Houston) again after Pro Football Focus gave him the best grade of any left tackle last season. He allowed just 16 total quarterback pressures in 12 games and was flagged just three times.
The group also includes Morgan Moses at right tackle and Brandon Scherff at right guard, hoping to solidify a right side of the line for the third consecutive season. Behind Kirk Cousins, the two fo them had the second (Scherff, 1,047) and third (Moses, 1,021) most snaps among offensive players.
Fourth-most belonged to left guard Shaun Lauvao, who recovered from his injury against the Giants and played in all but two games for the rest of the season.
With the team bringing back the same unit under offensive line coach Bill Callahan, Pro Football Focus ranked the group the 11th best in the league for the upcoming season, which may be a little low considering their unity. "Understanding what the man next to you is going to do isn't necessarily something we can capture in a grading system, but it certainly is important to an offensive line's effectiveness," PFF writes.
The group will also return guard Arie Kouandjio, who made his first start last season when Lauvao sat with injury. He started again for Lauvao in Philadelphia later in the season, helping the team to two victories in both instances.
The team also has a stable of backups, some looking to make a bigger impression after spending time on the practice squad last year, such as Isaiah Williams and Vinston Painter, who was called up to the active roster last season in case of injury.
The team brought in John Kling and Ronald Patrick, who has played center on the third team offense, and will assess Kevin Bowen, who was injured all last year and avoided what looked like a more serious injury in offseason practices.
Among the rookies, the Redskins drafted center/guard Chase Roullier from Wyoming and believe he could potentially become the team's starting center in the years to come. They also brought in undrafted free agent guards Kyle Kalis and Tyler Catalina to round out the group.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Despite the fact that the Redskins' starting five is mostly intact (a battle at left guard between Lauvao and Kouandjio could be the only potential shakeup), fans will still enjoy watching the unit practice each day in Richmond, no thanks to Callahan, who runs his group harder than just about every other coach on the field.
Even though the group has excelled in many areas and provided the foundation for an explosive offense the last couple of years, Callahan doesn't rest on their laurels.
"Everything. Every area," he said if where the line can improve. "I think the offseason is about that. Then when you go back and look at scheme evaluation and you really study yourself and you go back and look at your strengths and weaknesses and try to grow upon them and build on things that you could've done better, I think we addressed that. I think we were really intense on trying to find all the nuances to get in practice and to enhance our line play."
This will be the first full offseason for Spencer Long at center, and his progression should be something to note as the offense gets in sync again. Cousins has been thoroughly impressed with Long's intelligence on the field and he remained reliable since taking over for Lichtensteiger.
Callahan has praised Long's ability to transition to the position over the last year, citing the challenges in making calls at the line, picking up blitzes and giving clean handoffs to Cousins.
"I've seen a lot of growth from Spencer," Callahan said. "He's worked extremely hard. He's one of our favorite guys. He's taken over more of a leadership role inside because he has the ability to communicate and vocalize all the calls and put everybody on the same page. So, I'm proud of what he's done—he's come a long, long way. Having not ever played the center position and going into the lineup last season against New York last year, he played center for the first time in the NFL. He's come a long way. I'm really proud of him."
Regardless of whether the team decides to carry nine or 10 offensive linemen on the squad, there should be plenty of internal discussions in terms of filling out the depth chart. It's likely that Roullier will stay with the team for his versatility, both a center and guard, but Ronald Patrick will make a case for backup center, too. Gruden, for now, feels good about having two young guys compete for that role.
"We're a long way from [signing a veteran there]," he said. "We feel pretty good about Ronald's progress. And obviously Chase, we drafted him for a reason. We think he can handle it mentally. Obviously he's a big kid, he can handle it physically. Now it's just a matter of seeing him do it out at training camp and in the preseason games."
Training camp will be a prime opportunity, as it is each year, for players to prove their worth in a crowded field. Pay attention to the development of Isaiah Williams, who spent time this offseason training with Williams. And make sure to spot the "Hogs 2.0" shirts, as Williams will be inviting the entire group again down to his facility in Houston next week prior to camp.
REDSKINS IN RICHMOND: