The Washington Football Team's offensive line has struggled to protect its quarterbacks and open lanes for running backs, but help could be coming in the near future.
After spending all of the contact integration period of training camp and the first three weeks of the season on the sideline, fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles is entering his third week of practice. Brandon Scherff, who suffered a knee injury against the Arizona Cardinals, returned to practice Wednesday, starting a 21-day window for the team to decide when he is ready to return to the active roster.
It's unclear when Scherff or Charles will be ready to play, but head coach Ron Rivera said "there's an opportunity" for Charles this week, and Scherff had a "good day" on his first day of practice since his injury. Scherff's experience coupled with Charles' pedigree as a well-rounded blocker could be part of the remedy for the group's inconsistencies.
"You hear me talk about it -- we have not sustained success," Rivera said Wednesday. "When you watch the things that we do, you see it'll be 1st-and-10, 2nd-and-3 and then we'll do something and end up at 3rd-and-8. That's the frustration is that we don't sustain a positive thing."
Scherff's return would go a long way towards stabilizing an offensive line that is 30th in sacks allowed and adjusted line yards, per Football Outsiders. While Wes Schweitzer has been a solid substitute in his absence -- his current Pro Football Focus overall grade of 70.7 is the best of his career -- Scherff has proven to be one of the NFL's best right guards since he was drafted in 2015.
Scherff posted a 42.6 pass blocking grade through two games, but that does not represent how the three-time Pro Bowl guard has played in his career. He has graded out at a 70 or higher as a pass blocker for the past four seasons, including an 84 grade in 2018, and allowed nine sacks in 67 career starts.
His superior play is why PFF ranked him as the ninth-best interior offensive lineman heading into the 2020 season.
"Scherff is someone who is difficult to place in lists like these because of the injuries that have limited him in recent seasons," PFF's Ben Linsey wrote. "When he's healthy and on the field, it's hard to argue with the results, though."
Charles has not played a snap yet, but he is regarded as a talented player with plenty of potential. Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle Smith said Charles had "tremendous upside" when he was drafted, and Rivera added that he would be expected to compete for a starting role in training camp.
"He's a guy that has a chance to contribute early on, and quite frankly, because we're starting over, we're starting from the beginning, everything is on the table," Rivera said. "Every opportunity for anybody to come in and play is here. We are going to play the guys that we believe give us the best opportunity to win football games. That's what you want. You want guys that can come in and contribute that way."
Charles, who had 28 starts in three seasons at LSU, was a part of the Tigers' 2019 offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award, which is given annually to the best offensive line in college football. In the College Football Playoff National Championship against Clemson, Charles was the only offensive lineman to allow zero pressures on pass plays.
But Charles was not on the field when Washington began the contact integration period of training camp due to a calf injury. It was disappointing, Rivera said, because the team saw his talent during the acclimation period of camp.
Charles has made progress and had setbacks during his recovery. But now that he is on the field, his career debut could be in the near future. Charles has also practiced at left guard, which Rivera said in April could be a possibility for him, during Thursday's practice.
"Well, he's done a lot. He did a lot today, he practiced well, he's still developing," Rivera said Wednesday. "We'll see how the rest of the week goes for him."
Adding Scherff or Charles could provide the offensive line with the consistency it needs heading into a three-game stretch against NFC East opponents. There have been moments, like Washington's touchdown drive against the Los Angeles Rams, where the group performed well. But there are other times, such as the group giving up eight sacks, that have shown there is still plenty of room for improvement.
"We've got some guys that have the ability, we've just got to continue to develop as a football team and develop the young players that are playing," Rivera said. "We are using a lot of young guys. We're not as experienced as you'd like to be."
Washington's offensive line is still growing and developing. The left side features Geron Christian Sr., who started just two games prior to this year, and Wes Martin, who is in his second season. Both players have shown positives and negatives through five weeks.
Still, the group needs help, and bringing back one of its best pass blockers along with a talented rookie could help solve some of their issues.
"We're going to take our lumps," Rivera said, "but there's going to be a time where we're going to have to stop taking lumps and give them out ourselves."