With an aging Kory Lichtensteiger, the Redskins may look to transition Spencer Long to center this season, but want to exhaust all options in their search.
General manager Scot McCloughan made it clear on Wednesday as he addressed the media at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Redskins "need help everywhere."
Stressing the need to draft and replenish positions not just with front line talent, but also with players that could provide necessary depth (especially considering the unfortunate slew of injuries the team faced throughout last season), McCloughan and his staff know there is still much work to be done to a roster that made large improvements last year.
An area for potential upgrade is at center, a spot that struggled specifically after starter Kory Lichtensteiger, who will turn 31 soon, was lost for the regular season early on due to injury. It took backup Josh LeRibeus a while to find a rhythm snapping to quarterback Kirk Cousins, who often had to collect inaccurate snaps in shotgun.
Lichtensteiger is under contract for two more seasons, while LeRibeus, who switched over from guard during training camp, will be a free agent. The Redskins also have Austin Reiter, their seventh-round draft pick last season, who participated on the team's practice squad for the entire year.
"He did some good things in practice," Gruden said of Reiter. "Kory – what is he, 29 or 30 right now? And Josh is a free agent so that is a position that we'll have to look at for sure."
That might also mean giving Spencer Long a look, too. Already privy to a position change – with experience as a right guard, he filled in at left guard once Shawn Lauvao was lost for the season with an ankle injury – Long, with some more work during OTA's, could be a potential fit.
"Spencer, we tried to do that a little bit throughout the season in practice," Gruden said of switching him to center. "But he has a ways to go. His snaps are a little bit off right now. That's not something you want to go into a game with if you're not sure about the snaps. We already figured that. But that's the benefit of OTAs. You get to put people in positions and let them get better and improve."
With Lauvao returning after a couple surgeries in the winter, Long may be forced to develop his skills at center, though Gruden isn't exactly sure so early into a new season how position changes will work themselves out.
"He's mainly a right guard moved over to left guard," Gruden said of Long. "Like I said, [offensive line coach Bill] Callahan did a great job with him. I think he grew into the position and played very well also. But I like [Arie] Kouandjio also. He's a guy that didn't really get a chance to play, too. So we have good depth on the line if Shawn does come back and we'll have to address what we're going to do going forward at a later time."
A player that might fit McCloughan's pedigree is Iowa's Austin Blythe, a 6-foot-3, 290 pounder, who describes himself as a tough and dependable, though so do many of the offensive linemen in this year's draft including Michigan State center Jack Allen.
"I've talked to Brandon a little bit, just asking kind of what the prognosis is for center position in Washington and he says they might need one, so definitely an option," Blythe told Redskins.com at the Senior Bowl. "It'd be really cool, it'd be kind of ironic to head there with him, but we'll see. Anywhere I go is going to be a really big opportunity for me and I'm going to work hard for it."
McCloughan favors depth and competition, and while the Redskins exhibited some flashes of a bruising running game, it was often lost for games at a time. That all starts up front.
"We did a lot of good things early, then all of a sudden we kind of hit the wall," McCloughan said. "We need to be a better run team, we know that, and we will be. We need to be more physical. I think, as the season went on, especially with the pass protection it was excellent. Excellent. The amount of sacks we gave up and Kirk [Cousins] getting the ball out. But we do need to be able to run the football."