Backup O-Line Gets Chance on Sunday

Backup O-Line Gets Chance on Sunday

Tandler's Redskins Blog Ver. 08.13.06--The most interesting facet of Sunday's exhibition game will come when the members of the starting offensive line are wearing baseball caps on the sideline.

You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net

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The Washington Redskins will take the field in Cincinnati at 8:00 PM Eastern on Sunday night, but the real game won't begin until 45 minutes or an hour later.

Oh, sure, it will be interesting to see if the Redskins' "first-team" offense can put together a smooth drive or two. "First-team" is in quotation marks because some of those who will be taking the field as offensive starters on September 11 against the Vikings will play little if at all. Clinton Portis, for example, won't get more than three or four carries if that many. How can you really judge the performance of the offense without its primary weapon?

The same can be said of judging how well the Washington defense does when Cincinnati's Carson Palmer will be sitting out, waiting to test his damaged knee until the regular season draws closer. Rudi Johnson and Chad Johnson are likely to see about as much action as Portis does. As is the case with most NFL season ticket holders, the Bengal fans who shelled out regular-season prices for tickets to this glorified scrimmage will have grounds to sue for fraud.

That doesn't mean that the event won't have anything to hold our interest (especially at the price of free, as it's on over-the-air national television). The most noteworthy moments will come sometime in the second quarter. By that time, all of the members of the first-string offensive line will be wearing baseball hats and the second team, as named by Joe Bugel earlier this week, will be protecting Todd Collins and trying to open holes for Kerry Carter. Tyson Walter and Chris Pino will be the tackles, Jasper Harvey and Ikechuku Ndukwe will line up at guard, and Mike Pucillo will be the center.

Calling this a rag tag group would be doing a disservice to rags and tags. They used to call the Redskins O-line the Dirtbags. This group is the Paper or Plastic Bags as each of them is one step away from having to bag groceries for a living.

Their collective resume reads like that of the proverbial Waive Wire from Hell. Only Pucillo (seventh round) and Walter (sixth) were drafted. Those two are the only ones who have ever taken in snap in a real NFL game.

All kidding aside, these individuals have something to prove. Pucillo wants to show the Browns that they were fools for letting him go (and considering what happened to center LeCharles Bentley very early in training camp maybe the wish they had held on to him). Walter couldn't get on the field for one of the worst lines in the NFL in Houston and clearly he wants to show them what a mistake they made. Pino and Harvey played together at San Diego State last year and they want to show that a lot of teams made mistakes in passing them over in the draft. Ndukwe wants to make people have to learn to pronounce his name.

And, more importantly, a couple of them have to step up. All of the millions that Daniel Snyder spent and all of the countless hours and buckets of sweat that the players and coaches have invested in trying to win a Super Bowl this year could be wasted if there is an injury to one of the starting linemen and nobody is able to fill the void. The team has to find someone who could answer the 911 call and fill a void for a few plays, a few games or, perhaps, for a good chunk of the season.

That someone, perhaps a couple of someones, probably will have to come from this group. For Walter, Harvey, Pucillo, Ndukwe, and Pino, the first step towards taking that step forward is Sunday night.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they came to Washington in 1937 through the 2001 season. For details and ordering information, go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com

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Gibbs' Redskins Take It Easy. . .posted 08.11.06

We may lose and we may win though
We will never be here again
So open up, I'm climbin' in,
So take it easy

--The Eagles

As we approach mid August, NFL training camps are in full swing. Across the country from Flowery Branch, Georgia to Albany, New York to Oxnard, California, and many points in between two-a-days in full pads are the order of the day. The sights, smells, and sounds of grass drills, Oklahoma drills, and full-contact 11-on-11 drills are abundant all across the landscape.

That is, except in Ashburn, Virginia. The Redskins finished their last two-a-day practice on Tuesday. They were given a day off on Sunday, a luxury that very few of their counterparts on other teams have enjoyed. Just a handful of practices have been conducted in more than half pads. The starters participated in some activities prior to a scrimmage against the Ravens last weekend but most of them, including every starter on the offensive side of the ball, sat out the full 11 on 11 action. By comparison to, say, the Atlanta Falcons, who have gone for 14 days without a day off with two-a-days every other day, the experience in Ashburn has been more like Club Gibbs.

According to Joe Gibbs, the Redskins earned their relatively light camp schedule with an attendance rate of 98% at OTA's and other voluntary offseason activities. Certainly, the players, with very few exceptions, seem to be in excellent condition. Six-pack abs are much more prevalent than the hog bellies around Redskins Park.

Still, most players are in shape around the NFL and they're doing gassers while the Redskins are in an air-conditioned meeting room. Is Gibbs taking a chance in going with a much lighter physical workload?

The evidence says that Gibbs knows what he's doing. Here is his record month by month, including playoffs:

September: 31-20 (.607)
October: 33-21 (.611)
November: 36-23 (.610)
December: 39-14 (.735)
January: 19-5 (.791)

Gibbs' teams start off pretty well, a 60% winning percentage being about a 10-win pace over the course of 16 games. After the falling leaves give way to falling snow, however, the winning percentage shoots up to the point where his teams are winning three out of every four games. His theory is that the team will be fresher towards the end of the year if they don't take too much of a physical toll in August. It's clear that the Redskins have their legs under them in December and January.

In contrast, the tough camp that Jim Mora ran for the Falcons in 2005, which was similar to the one he's running this year, had Atlanta set up in good shape up until the middle of the season. A 6-2 start, however, was turned around as the Falcons went 2-6 the second half of the season and missed the playoffs.

To be sure, this is just a snapshot and the link between the tough camp and the late collapse is a hypothesis, not a proven fact. But the human body can only take so much hard physical activity before it begins to break down. It's too much to ask the players to hit the weight room hard starting in March, conduct OTA's through May and June, hold a minicamp, pound them in training camp in August before going through the grind of the 16-game NFL schedule. Something has to give somewhere.

It's a marathon and Gibbs has decided that the strategy will be to take it easy in the middle of it. They jump out strong at the start, getting a lead on the pack with hard work in the spring and early summer. In the middle, they conserve their energy, keeping a steady pace while others are sprinting by them. The Redskins save up for the finishing kick, the last quarter of the race when they are able to keep in cruising while the rest of the field is gasping for air.

The danger is that you just may let one or two of the other race participants get too far ahead of you to catch up. You can't rely on pulling out a 5-0 finish to the season every year in order to make the last Wild Card playoff spot as the Redskins did last year if you want to make it to the Super Bowl.

The Redskins have upgraded their talent this year in an effort to stay close enough to the leaders so that their annual December run will put them over the top instead of just barely nudging them into the postseason. We will see if that talent improvement will have them poised to make their run when Thanksgiving comes around. We know from history that the finishing kick will be there.

Collins, Campbell Duke it Out. . .Posted 08.09.06

We don't often see training camp battles on display this clearly. With Mark Brunell sitting out practice (actually he was there standing with the offense and a very interested spectator), veteran Todd Collins and second-year player Jason Campbell took turns running the offense in Tuesday afternoon's practice. The two are fighting it out to see which of them will be the #2 quarterback, active on game days, and which will have the role of the third string, emergency QB.

Collins took the reigns of the starting offense first. Joe Gibbs cautioned everyone not to read anything into that. He said that Collins and Campbell alternate who is in the #2 quarterback slot and that it was Collins' turn.

They started out with a spirited "walk through" which really was more like a spirited sprint as the offense hustled up and down the field, running plays against no defenders. A good chunk of Al Saunders' 700-page playbook was on display. There were option passes by Antwaan Randle El, who is not in the quarterback sweepstakes, end arounds, fake left, throw right screens, delay draws, and other tools in the offensive's massive bag.

This being the last day of two-a-days, the coaches decided that they'd had enough of drills and the like and they went straight to 11 on 11 play. Campbell threw a nice, deep out on a rope to Jimmy Farris and then made a good decision to throw the ball into the dirt when the defense sniffed out a screen.

Collins responded. As James Thrash broke away from Carlos Rogers Collins launched a picture-perfect, arching bomb that hit the streaking Thrash in stride about 40 yards downfield. Santana Moss broke off his pattern in the hook zone and had a little space between a trio of defenders. Collins smartly threw it low, where only Moss could make the catch. He did. The next play Moss went deeper and Collins displayed excellent touch in zinging the ball into his hands.

And so it went. Campbell to Cooley on a seam route. Collins to Moss again deep down the right sideline. Saunders was getting quite a workout running up to congratulate receivers for making catches.

To be sure, neither quarterback was perfect. A couple of times Campbell tried to finesse the ball in to a receiver when a pass with more mustard on it was called for and the passes were batted away. Collins misfired a time or two.

Overall, it was some pretty good quarterback play on the part of both Campbell and Collins. In the long run, it probably won't mean a lot. The backup quarterback position won't be decided in one day and play in preseason games will weigh heavily in the decision. However, we won't have the opportunity there to watch the two of them duke it out, virtually blow for blow like we did on Tuesday.

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