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Redskins' OL needs stronger showing, will be helped by Trent Williams' return

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins spent the offseason addressing the offensive line, changing coaches and adding talent. After Thursday night, they know they still have a lot of work to do -- not that this will surprise them.

They are starting a rookie right guard and a right tackle in his second year with one career start. They had a replacement left tackle for Pro Bowler Trent Williams, nursing a sore toe.

It added up to a long night for the offense and quarterback Robert Griffin III in particular. The line can be blamed for issues, but certainly not all of them.

"It didn't feel good," Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger said. "It felt like we were picking Robert up after every pass play. We've got to fix that. I don't know exactly what led to that, but it's something we've got to address for sure."

Willie Smith had issues at left tackle, allowing one sack when he was driven back. Another time the end rushed past him, but he said his job was to block down on the play. That led to another hit on Griffin as there was no one to slow the end -- running back Chris Thompson was on the other side.

"It definitely makes you cringe," Williams said of the hits on Griffin. "You don't want to see your quarterback get hit at all, preseason or regular season. It's definitely not a pleasant feeling. I'm glad to see he's OK and it's nothing serious."

The line could end up someday being a strength of the team. The question that can't be answered right now is when will that happen? You can dismiss what Smith did because Williams will be there when the games begin. That's an easily solved problem. But the right side will take time. The Redskins knew that; it's tough to pair two young players without having hiccups -- sometimes for an extended time, too.

Sure enough, Brandon Scherff was driven back into Griffin on a rush. Scherff has struggled with hand speed at times this summer; he's strong, but rushers can get their hands into him. At some point this might not be the case. For now, however, it is and it'll lead to speedbumps -- and worse. Some games will go well, when they're able to use their size to drive defenders off the ball. Other games won't go well when they get put in obvious rush situations and fail. It'll be part of their growth process -- Scherff's weakness in college was pass p1rotection. Morgan Moses missed time last year with a Lisfranc injury.

"We have to keep pressing and getting better," Moses said. "It's preseason and we've got a lot of ball left to play. We have to communicate. We're young on that side. We have to keep on competing and working.

"Everything is fixable."

It must happen soon, too, because the first two games of the season will be against teams with excellent defensive lines -- Miami and St. Louis. The Redskins can help themselves through game planning, but at some point the schemes won't cover up everything or compensate for all shortcomings. By midseason; by December; by next year, this could be a powerful side. For now, it's one that's growing.

Certainly, not everything was their fault. There were breakdowns elsewhere and even Griffin could have helped himself by moving better in the pocket on a couple of plays; on the play where he was hurt, Griffin could have just dumped the ball off on a third-and-16 rather than try to run. He wasn't going to pick up a first down and had Thompson available over the middle for perhaps eight yards. That wasn't the line's fault.

Still, the line and protection overall must be better. And if Griffin is going to be the quarterback, the line must be a strength. The sooner that right side comes together, the better off the offense will be. It's tough enough starting one young player, let alone two side by side.

At times, they'll flex their muscles on the field with a good block. Other times they won't: Moses lost his man on two different blocks early, leading to tackles.

"They can adjust fairly quickly," Williams said. "They're both really smart and both really advanced at knowing the game. Those guys are the least of my worries. They'll be fine."