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Redskins' O-Line Is On the Offensive

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When the Redskins report for training camp on July 29, they'll put into practice the techniques they've practiced. They'll just practice them differently.

There's no slam-dancing in mini-camp or OTAs, no contact, no pads. Think of off-season work as the laboratory and a chance to get a look at how the various schemes should function.

With new players, new coaches and a new philosophy, the offensive line figures to draw endless attention.

It features No. 1 pick Trent Williams at left tackle and probably two other new starters as well, at right guard (if Artis Hicks unseats Mike Williams) and right tackle (Jammal Brown, though Hicks remains in the mix there as well).

The mindset has shifted, under head coach Mike Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and offensive line coach Chris Foerster, to a zone-blocking scheme and one that will also involve more cut-blocking.

In zone blocking, the linemen are responsible for areas, rather than individuals.

In cut-blocking, they take the defensive players on by hitting them low (above the knee, by rule) in an area between the tackles and within three yards of the line scrimmage on either side of the ball.

This opens holes on the inside, which backs should hit quickly. That's why Shanahan's Denver Broncos' teams, with their potent ground games, were known for the "one cut and go" style. Backs don't dance and wait for openings, they hit the hole that's there.

The action starts with the five linemen and an aggressive approach.

"We're on the offensive. We're not taking it on the chin from the defense," says Foerster.

The ideas are in place. The next step – training camp – makes them come alive.

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"It will look completely different when we put the pads on," says second-year tackle William Robinson, who was on the practice squad most of last season before joining the active roster in December. "This is the stuff you can't do at mini-camp."

The O-line struggled terribly in 2009, and that was before injuries eliminated guard Randy Thomas and tackle Chris Samuels in the first five weeks.

Injuries caused a parade of starters at right guard (Will Montgomery, Chad Rinehart, Mike Williams, Edwin Williams). If the Redskins led the NFL in any offensive-line category, it was in the number of guys named William or Williams.

Shanahan's offenses in Denver, from 1995-2008, ranked in the top 12 in rushing every season. They were in the top five nine times. The Broncos led the NFL once, finished second three times and third once.

They accomplished this with a feisty line and a slew of backs who rushed for 1,000 yards, including Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell.

"The experiences that I've had through the past is we've done it different ways. We've had a 2,000-yard back, we've had a 1,750-yard back, we've had a 1,500-yard back, and we've had 2,500 yards with three guys doing it. So, who gets it done? It really doesn't matter if you're doing it with three guys, one guy, or two guys. You want to be productive in the running game," Shanahan says.

No question about the caliber of talent that Davis and Portis exhibited, but that line made the holes helped the players who got plugged in at running back and found success.

"We believe in the running game to start with, and everybody's got to buy into it," Shanahan says. "We believe in the system and believe it's going to be successful. I think that's one of the reasons we've been fairly good through the years, the belief that it's going to be productive."

Much has been said about the backs on the Redskins' roster, how their age may be a factor and how their best seasons might already have been. Larry Johnson, though, has been lightly used in recent seasons. Willie Parker is beginning only his seventh season and carried 98 times last year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Portis ran for 1,487 yards in 2008 and was just about on a 1,000-yard pace in 2009 when felled by a concussion in the eighth game. He knows this blocking scheme well, having played in it for Shanahan in 2002-03. He put in the time in the offseason on conditioning and won't be as heavy as he was a year ago.

Sometimes backs make their blockers look good. Sometimes the line returns the favor.

"This is a very good system for offensive linemen," Foerster says.

If so, it will also be good for the backs.

How good? Those answers come when the pads go on, the contact begins and theory turns into practice.


Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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