The Redskins' offensive line just finished a rebound regular season, but now they'll benefit from a returning Kory Lichtensteiger at center for the playoffs.
It was a risky move that could have had no payoff, but the Washington Redskins' gamble on Kory Lichtensteiger paid off.
In early November, four weeks after his last regular season action, Lichtensteiger was placed on Injured Reserve with a neck issue.
Lichtensteiger had practiced some between his last game appearance and the time he was placed on Injured Reserve, but his recovery wasn't progressing the way he or the team wanted to see.
So the Redskins decided to place him on Injured Reserve. Short-term Injured Reserve with designation to return, that is.
Lichtensteiger practiced with the team the last two weeks of the regular season, but the only possible way he could have returned to game action – the short-term Injured Reserve requires players to be out of game action for eight weeks before a roster decision – was by the Redskins making the playoffs.
"I don't want to make it sound like at 3 and 5, you think you're going to make the playoffs every time, but I knew we were capable of it and [general manager] Scot [McCloughan's] conviction really convince me, helped convince me there was no doubt in his mind that we were going to go on a run and win the division," Lichtensteiger said on Wednesday. "So that gave me confidence, I just knew I had to get myself ready to be able to be in the position to come back and help out if that happened."
And now the Redskins, who clinched the NFC East title Week 16 against the Philadelphia Eagles, have Lichtensteiger ready to return to the field and to get back into a rhythm with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
"I was able to get two weeks of practice in before becoming active again, and I'm extra fresh right now," Lichtensteiger said. "Because I just did some running, trying to do anything I can to get back in game shape without actually playing a game."
Lichtensteiger added that he "feels really good" entering Sunday's NFC Wild Card Round game against the Green Bay Packers.
A countdown of the Top 10 images of Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger during the 2014 season.
"It's nice to get back into it a little bit," Lichtensteiger said. "Take some real reps and not just on scout team stuff. Just excited, happy to be back, happy to be back with my guys."
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden added that "from a mental standpoint" Lichtensteiger is "good to go."
"He's like another quarterback on the field," Gruden said. "Very, very intelligent, not to say Josh [LeRibeus] isn't, but he's got a great handle on the offense – his calls. Obviously his snaps are very good. He's very quick getting up to the second level. You know, it's just a matter of him getting back into football shape and making sure that he's in that position and then physically to make sure he bangs around and feels good with that shoulder and arm, but he looks good so far."
The position Lichtensteiger's in is one he's never experienced, as the short-term Injured Reserve was just put into place during the 2012 season.
Before being inactive against the New York Jets in October, Lichtensteiger has started his last 58 appearances with the Redskins.
"I'm just hoping that my experience and having been there before and not being a new position -- I've had a whole year and half, I guess, at center – [helps]," Lichtensteiger said. "So I'm hoping I just can get right back into it and it feels natural."
Lichtensteiger is taking every action to get himself prepared physically between now and Sunday. And, if all else fails, the team now has a solid option at center in Josh LeRibeus, who made the change from guard to center in Lichtensteiger's place.
"A couple of the practice squad D-linemen were nice enough to put their pads on and bang around a little bit with me," Lichtensteiger said. "We didn't go too extreme with it, but it's kind of necessary to feel that. It's been a minute since I've had contact."