In the coming weeks, Redskins.com will be interviewing position coaches about younger players who have made significant contributions so far this season. Here's who we've interviewed so far:
This week's conversation is with offensive line coach Phil Rauscher about guard Wes Martin. The fourth-round rookie has made seven appearances this season and started three times in place of Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff.
With Scherff now on Injured Reserve because of a shoulder issue, Martin will likely remain the starter for the final two games of 2019.
Question: What were your first impressions of Wes and how do you think he's developed since being drafted by the Redskins?
Phil Rauscher: When Wes came in, he was a really strong player. He had some good things he did in pass protection, and in the run game he had a style of outmuscling people.
Now he's at a place where he's really starting to put together some techniques, and he's learning the different tools that it takes to be successful playing guard in the National Football League. He really does a nice job utilizing his natural ability with some taught ability, and he's really developing into a pretty solid guard.
He started last week, and that was his third start, and the development that he has shown since his start that he had earlier in the year was really noticeable. He did a really good job [against the Eagles].
He plays with good hands, he plays with good anchor, he plays with good feet, so it's kind of exciting to see.
Q: What specific differences did you see from his starts earlier in the season to his start against Philadelphia last week?
Rauscher: He played with more confidence. I remember when we were in Philadelphia to open the year, he was inactive. And that was literally the first NFL game he'd ever been to. I remember he made the statement like, 'I've never been to an NFL game before.' And now he's a part of the team.
So just his confidence level and his ability to know that he can play at this level shows more and more every time.
And because he's going against great players like Matt Ioannidis and Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen every day in practice, I think he knows that he can hang with the big boys. It's just a matter of time for when he gets in and starts playing on a more consistent basis.
Q: Were there any plays or sequences that showed him using his natural ability in tandem with what he's learned since entering the NFL?
Rauscher: If you just watch his pass protection, he has really, really good strength. I mean really good strength. In college if you were to watch his tape, he just muscled guys, like he'd just kind of grab them and anchor down.
Now, he uses techniques -- punching and striking -- and then he gets into his anchor. He gives himself an advantage because he'll come out and he'll strike you -- and that's taught -- and then he gets to his natural anchor. So, the combination of two has really helped him.
In the run game, he's a good athlete, but just the little tricks of the trade of getting up on the second level, which he obviously had picked up from Coach [Bill] Callahan when he first got here, really shined through.
Q: You talked about Martin's natural ability, but a lot of being an NFL offensive lineman is about technique and learning the position. What has been his mental capacity for all of this since joining the Redskins?
Rauscher: He's really a smart kid. He's smart, tough and dependable, so he fits into the [offensive line] room great because that's how all of those guys are.
And he takes pride in his work. Offensive lineman are really prideful men. It's a very interesting position only because you're never recognized unless you're screwing up (holding calls, or you jump offsides or your guys beats you). When you're doing your job, nobody ever notices you. But that probably means you're doing a pretty good job.
With a guy like Wes, he fits right into the group because his study habits are so good, and if you go into the meeting room you can tend to find Wes and all of the guys in there just studying tape and getting a little bit of the extra done.
We didn't really miss a beat [when Scherff got hurt] because Wes had been watching Brandon and seeing what Brandon does and learning from Brandon. And then he had guys like Morgan and Chase around him to help him on some of the things that would be difficult for a rookie to understand in the beginning of his career. As a unit, they played well together in supporting Wes as well.
Q; What has the relationship been like between Martin and Scherff?
Rauscher: I'd say this: It takes a village to groom a young guy. It takes all of the guys in [the offensive line] room to help these guys develop. Not just the coaches, but the other players.
As much as you teach him and tell him stuff as a coach, there's some factor where [Martin] has got a Pro Bowl guard in front of him that is going to help him because that's the kind of guy Brandon [Scherff] is. Brandon is going to help these young guys, and Ereck Flowers is going to help these young guys develop.
There's things just in the meeting room when you're sitting in there, you're talking about a technique or something and Brandon goes, 'You know, sometimes I like to do this just because of this.' And that helps. You get a guy like Ereck Flowers who has played tackle and then moves inside; he's not only developing and learning the [guard] position, but he's also giving tips like, 'Hey, when I played this, this is what I saw and what I looked for.' And it helps those young guys.
Really, when you're a young guy, there's not a lot of reps to be had in practice because you have to get the guys that are playing in the game developed. So your development comes in the meeting room and after practice and working technique in drills than it is running plays. The veterans help them with, 'Hey, when you get in there, this is what to expect. We've covered this, this and this, but this, this and this could also happen.' So that's what's good.
Q: Where do you think Wes needs to make the biggest strides going forward?
Rauscher: There's no one area for a lineman. It's such a unique position in the fact that you have to block for the pass, you have to block for the run, you have to get out there on screens. There's so many things that you have to prepare for.
The development of a lineman is to become developed as a complete offensive lineman. You can't just be a great pass protector. You can't just be a great run blocker, you can't just be a great guy in screens. You have to be a complete player, and Wes is developing at a high rate to become a more complete player.
There are things that Wes does very well right now, and there's things Wes is going to continue to work on to play at a very high level. But everything needs to continue to be kicked up a notch, and that's where his development lies: in the overall intensity and feel for the game more so than, 'Oh, this guy needs to run block better.'
Q: Coach Bill Callahan said Martin has also been working at center over the past few weeks. What went into that decision considering Martin is already the backup at both guard spots?
Rauscher: Well, he's really the backup for both guard spots and center.
When you have a limited number of players who are up on gameday, you have to just have contingency plans upon contingency plans. And although he was the backup guard per se, and Tony [Bergstrom] would in theory be the backup center, Tony is being used in different ways throughout the course of the game as well at tight end and different things.
So, for us to be able to keep the best package of players out there on the field as a group of lineman, you have to develop [Martin] at all three inside positions.
To be a successful lineman and an interior lineman, you eventually have to learn all three. And at some point, whether it's against the New York Giants or if it's in 10 years against the Green Bay Packers, at some point he'll take snaps at center. And so you just have to get them while they're young so you can teach them.
And then the other thing is that when you practice at center, it gives you another perspective on what you could be looking at at guard. The center position is so unique in the fact that you really have to know and understand everybody's role on the offense and direct them. When you play guard, you're really just kind of listening to the center on what to do a lot of the time. I mean you need to know what you're job is, but you can listen to the center.
When you practice someone at center, it gives them control of the unit. And it shows us really what he knows. So, there's a lot of reasons why that was done.
Q: Going forward, will Martin primarily play guard and then fill in at center when necessary? Or is there a chance he could develop enough to where he becomes a starting center?
Rauscher: I don't know. Everything is a puzzle in how you get your best five players out there.
One day, somebody may be like, 'You know what, he'd be a damn good center,' and I wouldn't disagree with that. And if you said, 'Hey, he's going to be a damn good guard,' I wouldn't disagree with you on that either. He's going to be a damn good player one way or another. The thing is where is he going to fit that's best for the Washington Redskins?
And it could change. It could be one day he is a right guard and maybe the next year, well we have a guy who's not a better right guard but plays right guard and now Wes can go play left guard. It's all a big puzzle, which makes it exciting year to year I guess on where everybody is going to fit.
Q: Finally, are there any stories that encapsulate the type of player Wes is or the type of player he could become?
Rauscher: I'll say this to you: When Wes Martin, in practice, has a play where he has to pull, everybody on the offensive line watches. When he pulls, he's so physical and the collision is so violent that everybody wants to watch.
There was a play in training camp where all of the sudden he pulled around the edge and he met the linebacker in the hole and knocked [him] out. And you could visibly hear the veteran guys go, 'All right, we got one.' So now when pulling plays come up, he grabs their attention, and that's what shows me the kind of player he is. If you can capture the other guys' attention to have them watch you on a play because it excites them, you're going to be all right.