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Offensive Line Guru Believes 'The Sky's The Limit' For Rookies Saahdiq Charles And Keith Ismael 

Washington Football Team rookies Keith Ismael (left) and Saahdiq Charles spent part of their offseasons working out with offensive line guru Duke Manyweather in Dallas, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lam Photography)
Washington Football Team rookies Keith Ismael (left) and Saahdiq Charles spent part of their offseasons working out with offensive line guru Duke Manyweather in Dallas, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lam Photography)

Saahdiq Charles and Keith Ismael will always be linked as the two offensive linemen the Washington Football Team selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, but their similarities go beyond position and draft class.

Both were standout starters -- Charles at LSU and Ismael at San Diego State -- who forwent their final season of college eligibility to enter the NFL draft. And both provide versatility that head coach Ron Rivera covets; Charles can play both tackle spots, while Ismael, listed as a center, can also play both guard positions.

Charles and Ismael are also bonded by the time they spent with offensive line guru Duke Manyweather, who trained about 20% of the offensive linemen invited to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. Manyweather, known throughout the league as one of the best private offensive line coaches, went into detail about each rookie in an interview with the Washington team site, expressing confidence that both players will excel whenever their opportunity arises.

"I really think the sky's the limit for both of them," Manyweather said. "They're both young. They both left school early. They both, I think, accomplished probably all that they can accomplish athletically at their respective universities. What was really cool about working with them, and still working, is that they come to work every day. They don't shy away from the work."

Ismael traveled to Dallas to train with Manyweather following San Diego State's bowl game in December, while Charles joined Manyweather shortly after LSU won The College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 11.

Both players worked with Manyweather through the NFL Scouting Combine and the days leading up to the NFL draft. Washington selected Charles in the fourth round (108th overall pick) and Ismael a round later (156th overall).

Charles initially planned on returning to Dallas after the draft, but because of the novel coronavirus, he has spent the past few months with former Pro Bowl tackle Willie Anderson in Atlanta. Ismael reunited with Manyweather in mid-May and trained there over the next few months.

"I just want to learn, I guess you could say, just how to be the best pro possible," Ismael said in his introductory videoconference with the local media in May. "[Manyweather's] trained so many guys, so many top-tier guys over the past couple of years. ...He's just a walking whatever I can take and learn and grow just to take my game to the next level, I want to try to get that."

Manyweather is excited about Ismael's maturation and development for a variety of reasons. He's a curious, determined young man, Manyweather said, who has played a lot of football at a high level. (Ismael earned first-team All-Mountain West honors in each of the past two seasons.)

Manyweather also believes Ismael is going to make a "big jump in terms of physical maturity." He's currently listed at 6-foot-3 and 309 pounds; that will allow him to thrive anywhere on the interior offensive line.

"We gave him and we continue to give him the tools and the reps that he needs in order to play all three," Manyweather said of Ismael, who trained at right guard, center and left guard this entire offseason.

"He's a kid that asks a bunch of questions...and wants clarity. He's not going to pretend he knows something he doesn't. He's going to say, 'What do you mean by that?' so he can get a better understanding. That attentiveness, to me, is key when trying to figure out where your pieces are going to fit. He's in the position that he can play guard."

Manyweather is not sure how the lack of in-person offseason workouts will affect Ismael during his rookie season, but he doesn't think anything will surprise him. That's because Ismael trained alongside about 30 NFL players for months, many of whom are veterans.

"Not that it expedites the maturation of a kid coming into the league," Manyweather said, "but you're hearing the war stories, these veteran guys are passing on knowledge, telling these guys exactly how it's going to be, what to expect."

Manyweather assumes Charles received similar information from Anderson, who started 184-career games from 1996 to 2008. And having worked with Anderson on several occasions, Manyweather is confident that Charles will be physically and mentally ready to compete at the professional level.

Manyweather has been high on Charles since he started training him during the pre-draft process. Not only is he a "freak of nature" physically, but Charles also has the savvy, power and footwork to flourish either on the edge or inside, where Manyweather said he would be "a force and an athletic-a** guard."

This skillset allowed Charles to routinely win his 1-on-1 matchups at LSU, Manyweather said. And on the off chance Charles was beaten, he typically recovered thanks to his athleticism. In fact, if Charles returned for his senior season and played every game, Manyweather said he probably would have been talked about as a first- or second-round selection instead of a fourth-round pick.

But just as Washington's decision makers concluded that Charles was an ambitious young player worth drafting, Manyweather saw similar promise during their sessions leading up to the draft.

"I was really blown away with how [Charles] went about his business and was always on time -- actually early -- always wanted to do extra, always asked the right questions and just was a really hard worker, man," Manyweather said. "I can really appreciate that from my perspective."

Manyweather helped Charles strengthen his core, create leverage with his hands and be more patient in pass protection -- all while providing "extra tools in the toolbox" in terms of his body positioning and posture.

Even without in-person offseason workouts, Manyweather believes there is a "great chance" Charles can win the starting left tackle job. That will largely depend on how quickly Charles processes the playbook, but Manyweather does not envision that being a problem considering Charles' high football IQ and the responsibility LSU places on its offensive linemen.

"In terms of game-planning, protection checks and just overall systematic advantage and scheme advantage and stuff like that," Manyweather said, "it's probably more than most NFL teams will ask of these guys."

Having lost two starters along the offensive line, Washington would certainly benefit from Manyweather's disciples making immediate contributions.

Their audition began July 27, as all of Washington's rookies reported to the club facility for training camp. If Ismael and Charles perform like they have the past several months, Manyweather thinks they will both have a part to play in 2020.

"You're going to have options with both of them, and that's a good situation to be in, especially with the departure of Trent Williams and then having no real certainty at one of the interior O-Line spots," Manyweather said. "I think for those two guys, you might see immediate contributions from, if not both, at least one of them."