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Building chemistry on the offensive line in pass protection is like playing a game of telephone. No, really -- that's how Charles Leno Jr. described communicating with his teammates to pick up blitzes.
"That's really what it's like on the line," Leno said. "If I see something on my side, I have to make sure the guy next to me knows, and he has to pass it down to the other guys because it can help them out in their certain protection or run look."
Leno has embraced communicating with whoever he's working with over the course of his career. If even one player doesn't get the right message, the play can easily fall apart. So, as he gets to know his new teammates, he wants to make sure he's on the same page with all of them.
"That's one thing that I instill in myself to make sure it's five guys working as one," Leno said.
Washington saw more than its fair share of blitzing defenses in 2020. It faced four of the top five teams that blitzed the most often, including the Buccaneers in the playoffs, and all 13 of their opponents averaged a blitz rate of 31%. While the offense did receive the third-highest pass-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus, it also allowed 50 sacks.
Clearly, that's a number the offensive line wants to knock down a bit, and part of that is getting better at working together to handle stunts and twists. For Charles, that means establishing a bond with players like Wes Schweitzer, the starting right guard, and Ereck Flowers. Both are really smart players, Leno said, and he enjoys playing alongside them.
When it comes to picking up blitzes, there's a simple formula to maintaining a clean pocket: let the blitz play out in front of you and work together with your teammates.
"I'm always vocal and I'm always telling guys and communicating with them after or before the play on what I see," Leno said. "I think that helps the O-Line be very successful."
It also helps that Leno and the rest of the offensive line is squaring off against Chase Young, Montez Sweat and the rest of Washington's defensive front on a regular basis. Washington was 13th in the NFL with a blitz rate of 32.4%, but it benefits from having players like Young and Sweat, who can win 1-on-1 matchups with ease.
Getting consistent reps against the duo, Leno said, is going to be great for when the season begins.
"They bring higher energy, higher effort every single day," Leno said. "I just have to match that intensity and bring my own to match up with it. And that's been fun."
Washington believes its offense can be better in Year 2 of Scott Turner’s system. It has weapons as receiver, a versatile running back, one of the better tight ends last year and a quarterback who can distribute the ball to them.
All of that hinges upon whether the offensive line can work well together. And so far, there's no worries on that end from Leno.
"I really just love playing with this offensive line," Leno said. "Just so many great guys across the room and I'm super excited and I'm so happy that I'm here."