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Rising From Tough Times, Offensive Line Excels In 2015

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With a revamped unit, highlighted by first-round draft pick Brandon Scherff and the guidance of Bill Callahan, the Redskins offensive line became a strength in 2015.

The 2015 edition of the Washington Redskins was one that was originally expected to be highlighted by a long rebuild, with players brought in for the long haul.

For new Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan, who admittedly prefers a more tough-nosed, physical team, that meant building from within.

On the offensive line, the Redskins had one cornerstone piece – perennial Pro Bowler Trent Williams – but a lot of change was ahead for the unit.

That started with selection of Brandon Scherff, the highest rated offensive lineman in the 2015 NFL Draft. Then came the decision to release veteran guard Chris Chester, who battled inconsistencies during his Redskins tenure, on May 27.

By the time the Redskins' first regular season game rolled around in September, the entire right side of the offensive line – Scherff at guard and Morgan Moses at tackle – had a combined one NFL start ahead of a quarterback, Kirk Cousins, who was just recently named the team's starter after working the majority of the offseason as the No. 2 or 3 quarterback.

"I remember the first game we were going against [Ndamukong] Suh and [Cameron] Wake and Olivier Vernon. We had a rookie offensive line and a lot of those guys were brand new," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden recalled recently. "We were going to have to drop back and take seven-step drops and let Wake have a field day in his first game. We were just making sure our offensive line gelled also."

The offensive line not only came together as one cohesive unit, but backups became starters who played a huge role for the eventual NFC East champions.

Spencer Long replaced Shawn Lauvao after the University of Arizona product was lost for the season in Week 3. Ty Nsekhe filled in for Williams on two occasions. Josh LeRibeus played and started at center for the first time in his career for the final 11 regular season games.

Even Tom Compton, who often came in as an extra blocker in certain packages, played a vital role.

Check out these photos of Universtiy of Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, the Redskins' fifth-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

In total, the offensive line allowed just 27 sacks this season – tied for fifth fewest in the NFL. Last season, they allowed 58 sacks, which was the second most in the league.

"To be honest, if that would have been anybody else and having the young guys over there, I probably would have been worried a little bit, but from working with them and from seeing them play, from seeing them practice day in and day out, I knew we'd be OK," Williams said of Scherff and Moses. "I knew those guys just had to learn to communicate and work together. They've done an outstanding job this year."

When Scherff was selected with the fifth-overall pick, Moses started OTAs and minicamp working with the second-team.

But the University of Virginia product didn't take it as a knock on him.

"I just never blinked, man," Moses said. "I knew what I had to do. I had a plan coming off the injury and when you have plans, man, you're able to execute things. That's what I really did. I didn't let them drafting a left tackle determine what I wanted to do in the long run. So I just had a plan and I stuck to it."

For Scherff, the expectations were incredibly high.

He was the Redskins' first first-round pick in three seasons, and the very first under McCloughan.

Many fans wanted USC's Leonard Williams, who was the No. 1 overall rated prospect by many, but McCloughan had his man in Scherff.

And while questions arose about Scherff's move to guard from tackle in the second week of training camp, the decision to go ahead and move him inside paid off for the team.

Scherff not only quietly excelled week after week, the rookie had just two penalties all season.

"I'm really not surprised with the talent that he possesses, but I think the way he grew up during the season… he just never gets rattled, man," Williams said. "He never looks worried, no matter how hard Coach is coaching him, no matter where we are at what point in the game – whether it's late, we're down, whether we're up. He's the same guy. I think that's really big coming from a rookie."

The Callahan effect

It'd be impossible to discuss the offensive line's growth this season and not include position coach Bill Callahan.

Joining the Redskins coaching staff last January, Callahan was heralded across the league for his ability to get the absolute most out of an offensive line.

During his final season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, the team finished second in rushing yards per game. Two different Cowboys offensive linemen were also selected as first-team All-Pros.

From 2008-2011, Callahan, an offensive line coach for the New York Jets, guided a unit that paved the way for the team to rush for nearly 140 yards per game.

With a unit not first respected entering the season, Callahan put the spotlight on the Redskins' offensive line -- with help from assistant offensive line coach Shane Day -- and it shined.

"He's done great," Gruden said. "We've got a very young offensive line and had to move people around like Josh LeRibeus and all that stuff. He's developed Morgan Moses and Brandon Scherff and Spencer Long and got them ready. When [Shawn] Lauvao went out, Spencer jumped in and we had to get him ready. He's done a great job with Trent [Williams], obviously, also. I've known Coach Callahan for a while. He worked with my brother, obviously. He's a legend in the coaching ranks as far as offensive line is concerned. It just so happened that what happened with our staff last year, we had an opening. He's a guy that we wanted to target because of his reputation. I had known him personally. He's done a great job for us."

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