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On O-Line, Cohesion Can Matter More Than Pedigree


The question loading up the old email box comes with painful frequency. Why aren't the Redskins doing more to upgrade their offensive line?

True, the Redskins hardly burned up their stash of cash in free agency. The only offensive lineman of note they signed was veteran Artis Hicks, currently lining up as the right tackle.

Primarily a guard over eight years with Minnesota and Philadelphia, Hicks joined the Eagles without pedigree as an undrafted free agent but started 14 games at left guard in 2004 when they went to the Super Bowl. He made three starts last season with the Vikings.

You are not thrilled? Hopefully you were somewhat mollified when the Redskins used their No. 1 pick on Trent Williams and declared he'd have the first and best opportunity to become the left tackle.

You say that's not enough, with Chris Samuels retired, Randy Thomas released and Stephon Heyer still unproven at either tackle spot?

After selecting Williams, the Redskins added two more offensive linemen in lower rounds, taking center/guard Erik Cook and right tackle Selvish Capers.

Not splashy. Your cup runneth over not?

We are here with a prescription for a chill pill and the advice to calm down. What you saw last year won't be what you get.

Must improvement come rapidly and extensively? Yes. Do offensive lines need a slew of high draft picks to succeed? They do not. Not if they work cohesively. Not if they stay healthy. Not if they develop. Not if they fit the design.

"This is a very good system for offensive linemen," says Chris Foerster, the new offensive line coach. "The one thing the linemen have to do is be willing to do is run. There will be a mix of power. There's going to be the zone-blocking scheme. This is a very good system for offensive linemen."

This is no promise from me to you that the Redskins suddenly can put an impenetrable wall between Donovan McNabb and the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Justin Tuck.

There's no guarantee the interior group can pull and move and create holes for any of the Redskins' veteran running backs. Or that they will master the teamwork and communication required in zone blocking, where the linemen must take care of areas rather than man up against individual defenders.

All I can offer is hope. Hope based not only on coach Mike Shanahan's history and system but on the successes of others with what might appear to be an ordinary cast of characters.

Look at the New York Giants. They assembled a line that carried them to the Super Bowl championship in the 2007 season and their group is more 'Who's he?' than a Who's Who.

David Diehl was a fifth-round pick of New York's in 2003 and moved from guard, his natural position, to left tackle. Guard Rich Seubert was an undrafted free agent in 2001. Center Shaun O'Hara, signed as a free agent in '04, came from Cleveland, which had signed him an undrafted free agent.

Right tackle Kareem McKenzie came over in '05 as a free agent from the Jets, who had made him a third-round pick. The only pedigreed player? Guard Chris Snee, a second-round choice (and the son-in-law of coach Tom Coughlin, speaking to the value of inside information).

That quintet started an NFL-record 38 consecutive games, its run ending last October when McKenzie sat out with a groin injury. On balance? Solid, solid group. Snee, Diehl and O'Hara went to the Pro Bowl, marking the first time since 1962 the Giants sent three players from one position to the NFL's all-star game.

The streak was a point of pride but not exactly the point. As McKenzie put it at the time, "The streak is unimportant. Being able to go out there and help the team win is what's important. It doesn't matter who is out there as long as we get the right people on the field to do the job and be successful."

Let's go back to 2005. Denver, under Mike Shanahan, won the AFC West with a 13-3 record and reached the AFC championship game. The Broncos ranked fifth in total offense, second in rushing. The Broncos allowed 23 sacks (less than half of what the Redskins surrendered last year).

That Broncos offensive line featured one No. 1 pick, right tackle George Foster. The left tackle, Matt Lepsis, had been an undrafted free agent. Center Tom Nalen, a five-time Pro Bowl choice, was a seventh-round pick and the third of Denver's three seventh-rounders in 1994. The guards, Cooper Carlisle and Ben Hamilton, were both fourth-round choices.

The 2008 Broncos, Shanahan's last team in Denver, allowed 12 sacks while ranking second in total offense. Left tackle Ryan Clady was the sole first-round pick in the group. Right tackle Ryan Harris was a No. 3, Hamilton a four, guard Chris Kuper a five. Center Casey Wiegmann signed as a free agent and had been an undrafted rookie free agent in 1996.

The Redskins' offensive line, as it now looks, will feature Williams at left tackle, Derrick Dockery next to him, Casey Rabach in the middle, Mike Williams at right guard and Hicks at right tackle.

Dockery was originally a third-round pick of the Redskins, Rabach a No. 3 of Baltimore's in 2001. Mike Williams was a No. 1 pick of Buffalo's as a right tackle in 2002 but came to the Redskins after an extended absence from the game and found a home inside. Hicks, undrafted in '04, enters his ninth season.

We'll know soon enough if pedigree matters. Top picks often fail while gritty survivors raise their game. And pedigree won't mean a thing if these guys play like junk-yard dogs.

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

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