ASHBURN, Va. -- The first move involved securing the tackle, so Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams and guard Spencer Long doubled him. Then Long moved from there to the linebacker, quickly filling a gap. Meanwhile, Williams buried the tackle as Long secured the linebacker -- and Alfred Morris ran through the hole for 12 yards.
It’s the type of play that involves two players working together. But it also illustrates what happens the more they play together. And it also speaks to why it can take time: The Redskins see so many defensive fronts that players need to learn how to block each one -- and knowing their assignment might change based on one player’s movement.
“That’s the type of stuff that takes a little time,” Williams said. “It’s like a quarterback and receiver with a tackle and guard working together. You’ve got to know each other.”
Four of the Redskins’ five offensive linemen are not only trying to learn the NFL game -- thanks to injuries at two spots, only Williams has started more than 10 games in his career -- but also their teammates. It leads to inconsistency.
It’s not about talent: Every starter was drafted in the third round or higher. They have two top-five picks on the line with Williams and rookie right guard Brandon Scherff.
“From a talent standpoint, they’ve got all the tools to be successful,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
It’s little things. If the nose tackle shifts, the blocking responsibilities change. Or if the linebacker fills a different gap, then it switches them up as well. Some teams present more challenges: No team stacked the line more than the Jets; the Patriots showed more looks than anyone.
“Last week it was an easy deal,” Gruden said. “We knew where they’d line up and where to get off and we were effective. This week it could be different. But you have to make sure you communicate the right way. That’s the biggest thing where we see improvement, when the fronts change they adjust quicker... The biggest thing for an offensive lineman is their ability to adjust on the move.”
Some linebackers fit gaps quicker or maybe the pulling guard gets out faster, Williams said, so it’s all about knowing the game plan and the opposition. Last week, they knew the Saints’ linebackers played fast, so on Morris’ 12-yard run, Williams knew Long would leave him quicker. It helped Williams block with more urgency.
“I knew I had to be well after he left,” Williams said.
Long said, “You get a feel for the guys next to you. You get a feel for how a guy will attack this block. We’re coached a certain way and the more times we do it, the more clean it is.”
The communication for all the linemen starts during the week. Williams said he and Long, who will start their sixth game together Sunday, bounce ideas off one another throughout the week and game. Like Scherff and Morgan Moses, they talk a lot.
“That’s the type of continuity you need with the guy playing next to you,” Williams said.
But it also speaks to why, for now, the Redskins’ line remains inconsistent. The run-game failures are not theirs alone; far from it. At times the tight ends aren’t blocking; other times it’s the receivers.
For the five players up front though, there’s more need for continuity and knowing the guy next to you. The Redskins know their right side of the line, with Scherff and Moses, is not a finished product. They don’t mind waiting. Gruden said their issues stem from not knowing how to handle certain blocks based on looks they haven’t seen much of yet in the NFL. There have been struggles at center with Josh LeRibeus, filling in for injured starter Kory Lichtensteiger, with various calls, Gruden said. But the right side is developing nicely.
“Both are intelligent guys and we’ve had very few mental screw-ups there,” Gruden said. “They’ll be a special tandem for a while. They can do it all; that’s the beauty of them. Brandon has good short-area quicks and good strength. The knock on Morgan was that he had slow feet, but he doesn’t have slow feet and he can get outside. We’ve seen him pull and get around the corner. He’s a big man and he shows more quick twitch than people gave him credit for.”
As this group develops, the Redskins should become more consistent running the ball. They can also expand the calls they make. To get there, line coach Bill Callahan, every day, has always the last group on the field.
“He works you until the cows come home, but you can’t complain because we see the results,” Williams said. “I’ve learned that’s all he’s looking for and he’s not a butthole about it. We understand him; guys have responded well.”