The offensive line of the Redskins showed vast improvement in the second half of the 2003 season. Their overall performance for the season still fell below the lofty expectations that many, including myself, had for this unit. The unit as a whole showed increased concentration, sharpness and actually started to gel in the manner necessary for successful offensive lines. The line also showed the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage at times. They cut down on the number of mindless penalties that plagued them during the first half of the season. The line still showed some difficulty with the complex blocking schemes that were a part of the Spurrier offensive plan.
The line was able to remain relatively healthy for most of the season but they were without Dave Fiore for most of the season and did lose center Larry Moore at the end of the season. The injury to Fiore opened the door for rookie Derrick Dockery to earn valuable playing time that should reap great benefits for his sophomore NFL season. Dockery's performance in the second half was the most impressive as he fought through his growing pains in a system of unnecessarily complex blocking assignments and schemes. His trial by fire allowed him to grow into a valuable member of an offensive line that all should be back for the 2004 campaign. His play eased the pain of possibly not getting Fiore back from injury, although Fiore fully expects to return for the 2004 season.
Despite not having a primetime running back, the offensive line was able to establish the run in most games but due to the erratic play calling they were rarely given the opportunity to effectively take control of the line of scrimmage through the run. The injury to quarterback Patrick Ramsey changed the look of the offense because the play calling changed to accommodate backup quarterback Tim Hasselbeck. The change in play calling was a welcome change for the line as the offense started to use the run more as well as the short passing game.
Chris Samuels, Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas stepped up their performance in the second half and started to show that those who thought this line could be something special maybe were not so wrong. The line still received little help from the running backs in the blocking schemes and the blame fell at the feet of the line. While the aggressiveness and domination that was once a staple of Redskins football was missing for large portions of the season, it was their at times and that in itself is a promising sign.
In evaluating the performance of the Redskins offensive line for the 2003 season it would be difficult to ignore the problems that the unit had, especially with their pass blocking. The Achilles heel proved to be blitzing defenses. Moreover it was the offenses inability to pick up the blitzes with any regularity. The blame for this should be split three ways: offensive line, running backs/tight ends and most importantly, the coaching staff.
While I can offer no excuses for the lines erratic performance throughout the season, I will only offer that the blocking schemes/assignments were far more complicated than they should have been. Instead of allowing the "meat eaters" to man up against the defense and knock them off the ball, they were being required to think, rethink and think again about who they had to block in the time between getting to the line and the snapping of the ball. Oh, and let us not forget that they also had to listen for the countless audibles that were an integral part of the "famed" Spurrier offense. That is tantamount to watching TV, taking your SAT test while listening to the radio and flipping pancakes. Their run blocking was decent and seemed to improve as the season progressed. Unfortunately, the play calling was such that the running game was often abandoned which prevent the line from establishing themselves in this area.
The grade that I would give the offensive line as a unit would be a solid "C". This grade is a combination of a "B-"for their run blocking and a "C-"for their pass blocking. Individually, I think that Jansen and Thomas's performance got getter throughout the season and they should be one of the best guard and tackle combos in the league as they continue to play together. Samuels had an off-season and should return to form in 2004. The center position was solidified with the play of Larry Moore and Lennie Friedmann filled in admirable at the end of the season when Moore went down with injury. It will be nice to see what Dave Fiore can add to the line but in his absence, rookie Derrick Dockery filled in and his play improved throughout the season to the point that he could be counted on to fill the guard position should Fiore's injuries keep him to miss further action.
I am hesitant to pound the line for their performance mainly because of the
coaching they had and the schemes they were forced to use. I strongly feel that those two factors were key in the lackluster performance of this unit. I will say that this line has a huge upside for the 2004 season now that the Boss Hog, Joe Bugel has returned home. Factor in Joe Gibbs and all that his coaching staff will bring to the table and it isn't hard to see this offensive line dominating defenses in 2004.
For this or any line to be successful, they need the help of the running backs and the tight ends to assist in blocking assignments. The previous coaching staff didn't feel this way and we were witness to what happens when conventional football wisdom is abandoned in favor of an unproven offensive philosophy. Have no fear, my friends, for professional football has returned to our nation's capital and with it shall come a return to respectability.