Raise your hand if you remember the 2007 Monday Night Football Game matching the Ney York Giants Vs the Philadelphia Eagles at Giants Stadium. Yes, that was the same game where Winston Justice may have played the worst nationally televised football game of any Left Tackle in the history of televised football. That night in East Ruttheford NJ., Justice, a 2006 second round draft pick from the mighty Trojans of USC, gave up 6 sacks to Giants Defensive End Osi Umenyiora. The game turned Justice into an instant laughing stock, and elevated Umenyiora to God-like status amongst Big Blue fans. There has never been one game in the history of the NFL that has diminished the stock of one player, and elevated the status of another so drastically. Justice didn't start a game the rest of the 07' season, or any game in 08'.
Now lets fast forward to 2009. Could a player have faced any more adversity, yet come back to triumph in any greater fashion than Wisnton Justice version 2.0? He was named the starter at RT coming into the season, played in, and started all 16 regular season games, and 1 playoff appearance, was given a multi-year contract extension mid-way through the season, and helped solidify one of the best Offensive Lines in the NFL.
Now for the second part of our story.
Stephon Heyer came to Washington in 2007 as a undrafted FA from the University of Maryland. Many didn't give the rookie a chance to even make the team that year. Instead, under the guidance of offensive line guru Joe Bugel, Heyer not only made the team, but appeared in 12 games registering 5 starts in spot duty. In 2008 he beat out incumbient starter Jon Jansen for the RT job in the pre-season, but lost that job shortly after an injury forced him to the sidelines. He was never able to regain the RT spot from Jansen upon his return, but did see some time on the left side, filling in the final few games for injured Chris Samuels. In 2009, Heyer started all 16 games for the injury-plagued Redskins, seeing time at both LT and RT. Heyer, along with Rabach, and Dockery were the only Redskin offensive linemen to play in, and start all 16 games in 2009.
Heyers' season didn't come without troubles of his own. His inconsistent play at LT in place of the injured Chris Samuels forced the Redskins to sign FA Offensive Tackle Levi Jones midway through the season. Jones ended up starting the remainder of the games(8 Total) at LT for the Redskins. Heyer was moved over to RT, and was average at best for a much maligned and beaten-up unit.
The parallel of this story only starts here. There are still many question marks surrounding both of these young tackles. Justice seems to have solidified his place as the Eagles RT of the future. Heyer's future is far less certain.
He(Heyer) has shown the potential to have cought the eye of one of the greatest offensive line coaches in the history of the NFL. He fought, and earned the starting RT spot over the aging, yet still competitive Jansen, as a second-year player. He must have done something right for the Redskins to have believed him him since his rookie year. It would be so easy for a Hall-of-Fame head coach, and a Hall-of-Fame offensive line coach to simply turn their backs on the mammoth rookie, and just throw him on the practice squad as a developmental player, or just outright cut him and move on. As stupid as Vinny Cerato was, someone must have told him that they believed in the young player, as we have seen evident that they did not feel the need to draft higher rd offensive linemen.
So, we have one of two possibilities here: First, we can blame this on the coaching staff(Gibbs and Buges) for mis-identifying his talent, and relaying to Cerrato and company that they thought they had found a diamond in the rough, when actually they found a one-year overachiever who doesn't even belong in the NFL. Or, Second, we can assume that both the past and present staff really sees some potential in Heyer, and believes he can develop into a good RT.
Either way the very different roads of these two very similar offensive linemen have taken some twist and turns along the way. One road has been paved by consistancy and perserverance. The other remains a pot-hole filled path, with many obstacles to navigate around. The vechicle of our future must navigate this road to be successful.
2010 can be a telling year for Heyer. Can he rise up and show the staff the potential that was seen by one who coached the greatest Redskins linemen of all time, or will he fall back into obscurity from where he once came. In other words will he become Winston Justice version 1.0 or version 2.0?