The Redskins suffered a litany of injuries at center and guard in 2017, testing their depth and forcing many young players to step in during crucial junctures of the season.
As the Redskins head into the offseason looking to get back to their winning ways, Redskins.com will provide position-by-position reflections from the 2017 squad.
Up next: Centers and Guards.
REVIEW OF THE UNIT:
Not long after last year's NFL Draft, head coach Jay Gruden expressed his greatest fear to Chris Cooley over the radio.
"I need centers. It's my biggest fear as a coach," Gruden said. "Something happens to Spencer, where do you go? You teach a guard to do it again? You got to have a guy that can play center in my opinion."
The duo was discussing the decision to take Wyoming center Chase Roullier in the sixth round, and more importantly, why having depth along the offensive line is crucial to success. If it seems like an odd fear as a head coach, maybe Gruden had an inclination he'd need as many big men up front as possible over the next several months.
For the majority of the season, the center and guard positions remained a rotating door thanks to a couple of key injuries that seemed to have a snowball effect on the rest of the unit, forcing the Redskins to get creative and rely on several players off the street.
Within the span of two weeks – the Redskins' Monday Night matchup with the Eagles and their next game hosting the Cowboys – Washington saw three starters fall prey to injury. Spencer Long injured his knee and groin in Philadelphia, right guard Brandon Scherff injured his knee, too, while left guard Shawn Lauvao received a stinger against the Cowboys. Scherff missed just two games, playing the third most snaps on offense, but Long and Lauvao eventually landed on Injured Reserve.
Gruden's biggest fear was alleviated slightly by plugging in Roullier at center, where he started the next four games until fracturing his hand against the Saints. Roullier missed the next three weeks after receiving surgery and the team called upon Tony Bergstrom to fill the void until his return.
Among the other notable backups and signees were Tyler Catalina, who filled in at right and left guard and occasionally at tackle when needed, and Arie Kouandjio, who was cut by the team after the preseason but was signed back near the end of October and filled in admirably with little time to prepare.
Several other names filtered through the Redskins locker room in case of emergency, a cast of faces even quarterback Kirk Cousins said he had trouble keeping track of.
"I think the challenge for me as a quarterback is how much do you keep your eyes down the field, trust the rush and just play, and how much do you start to say I'm going to plan for the potential of it being loose?" Cousins said after the Cowboys game. "Now, I have to avoid the chance of a sack-fumble. We saw what a sack-fumble can do to kill a drive and give them a short field. So, it's that balance of trying to play conservative and protect your opportunities in the game while also being aggressive and having to go make plays at some point. That was the balance I was trying to find throughout the game, and I think for the most part handled it well, but there's obviously plays here and there that you wish were different."
Cousins was sacked 41 times, a career high and no doubt a product of his starting center and guard falling onto the injury list halfway through the year. Still, the backups acquitted themselves nicely under offensive line coach Bill Callahan and managed to find a groove together near the end of the season.
"I've been really impressed with our coaches, man," Gruden said.T"hey've been through a lot as far as having to get guys ready – different guys ready – on a day's notice, week's notice. Getting ready to play an NFL game is not easy."
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE GROUP:
One thing remains certain in this group and it's the return of Brandon Scherff, recently selected to his second Pro Bowl in as many years after stabilizing the right side of the line with right tackle Morgan Moses. Everywhere else looks less clear.
Long once looked to be the team's starting center for the noticeable future but his injuries during a free agency year might put his return to the team in question, especially with the emergence of Chase Roullier. Left guard Shawn Lauvao will also be an undrafted free agent, meaning the Redskins could part with two starters at the beginning of the season.
If they do move on, the team may draft a guard and look to develop Catalina, Kouandjio and a couple of others at the position they signed in 2017.
Roullier said his hand injury will still need persistent care and rehab but that it's coming along and should be fine for next season.
"Whenever there's a surgery, you kind of have to continually rehab that for weeks," Roullier said. "I've been doing that since I got the surgery and I'm going to have to continue doing that to make sure it's ready to go. It's getting better every week and by the season next year, hopefully I won't have any sort of feeling of my hand needing rehab at that point. There's screws and a plate in there. As far as I know, there's no plans to take that out. That would probably be something more like way down the line if I ever decided to do that. It's just helping support that bone right now."
It's also possible that Roullier could switch to guard, a position he played at Wyoming but didn't practice this year with the Redskins. Regardless, entering his second year, Roullier has a better idea of what it takes to play in the league for a whole season and what he needs to do to progress.
"I think a lot of it is just continuing to get stronger," Roullier said. "It's a tough game out there and you've got to make sure you maintain your strength and get stronger every year, especially at the position we all play. That's a huge thing for me, and obviously just staying in good physical shape too, continuing to lean out a little bit and continuing to build good, lean muscle mass. Then, obviously getting some more mental ability to play the game, preparing that way as well is another thing that's very important at center."
SEASON IN REVIEW