If the Seahawks' Justin Britt can do it, why can't Spencer Long?
Britt, the former tackle, turned guard, will now get his chance at center. The move was made this offseason, and the 6'6" 325 pounder was able to work at his new craft during training camp, seeing action with both the one's and two's. He is now the projected starter with former center Patrick Lewis being released yesterday. Is he perfect?...no, but he's big, smart, strong and nasty, and the staff feels he can continue to grow in his new position, and become a fixture for years to come.
Britt was a second round pick(number 64 overall) in the 2014 NFL draft. He was drafted to be a right tackle, but his play as a rookie was very poor, so the following season he was moved to guard. Despite a poor season at left guard, Britt managed to start all 16 games in 2015. In the 2016 offseason, it was determined that Britt would be moved to center. Head coach Pete Carroll said this was the position they envisioned him taking over when they drafted him.
Spencer Long has some similarities to Justin Britt. In college, both men saw time at guard and tackle. While Britt was primarily a left and right tackle, Long's best position was on the interior at guard(he even saw a bit of time at center). Both Britt and Long really burst onto the scene for their respective teams during their Junior seasons, where each was considered their team's best offensive linemen. At the combine, Long measured 6'5" 320, with 33 1/8" arms, and 10 3/4" hands. Britt came in at 6'6" 325, with 33 1/2" arms and 10 1/4" hands. The analysis on both guys was that they were big, smart tough and nasty. Both were chosen within 15 spots of one another in the 2014 NFL Draft(late second and early third rounds respectively).
Long has been cross-training at center under coach Bill Callahan for the last two offseasons. He has seen time with the first and second team this preseason, and has looked fairly decent in game action at the position. The problem is, he's also been asked to be a starting guard, as Shawn Lauvao works his way back from ankle surgeries that kept him out for the majority of last season, and all of OTA's this spring. It hasn't helped that reserve Arie Kouandjio has regressed from last season, and is far from contributing at guard this year.
Now, it is pretty apparent that GM Scot McCloughan wants an upgrade at center. It was rumored that he was targeting Alabama center Ryan Kelly in the draft, before he was taken 18th overall by the Colts. At 6'4" 311, Kelly would have given the Redskins the size they are looking for on the interior, and the intelligence and disposition to go with it. Just last week, when rumors surfaced that the Patriots were about to cut center Brian Stork, the Redskins stepped in and offered a 7th round draft pick for the 6'4" 315 pound former Super Bowl champ. Take a guess what Stork's college bio read - ....you got it, big, tough, smart and nasty! Unfortunately, the trade fell through when Stork failed his physical, leaving the Redskins still looking for that missing piece to their front five.
We all know a lot about incumbent Kory Lichtensteiger. We know what he is - undersized(6'2" 292), under-powered, overpaid(scheduled to make almost 3.9 million this season) and a little longer in the tooth(age 31). We also know what he's not - big, strong, and nasty. It's clear Scot McClughan vales these traits in his linemen. Look no further to his first draft pick with the Redskins, offensive linemen Brandon Scherff.
The question remains, can Long displace Lichtensteiger from the lineup before the final round of cuts next week? Could Kory become a street free agent?
So far, the Redskins have saved about 5 million in cap space by cutting Perry Riley and Stephen Paea. They need to have significant funds heading into 2017, as three prominent members of the offense become free agents - Kirk Cousins, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Releasing Lichtensteiger could save them and additional 2.8 million.
Here is what I do know from watching the first three preseason games. Long is certainly bigger, stronger and nastier. He has played pretty well at center, although not perfect. He has shown a good anchor in pass pro, decent movement in drive blocks, and the ability to work to the second level and seal off the linebacker when necessary. His snaps have been pretty good(unlike Josh LeRibeus). Where he does need work is on blitz and stunt recognition. This is a very important part of playing center, but Long can easily improve with more time at the position. Kory has been pretty much what we expected. He is not nearly as physical as Long at the point of attack, and more than a few times I've watched him get walked into the backfield(I counted two plays last game alone where he was almost hand-delivered into the quarterbacks lap). He's also been called for some penalties because he's simply been overmatched, forcing him to hold. He does however do a nice job with line calls and adjustments.
If Scot McCloughan covets big, smart, strong, nasty offensive linemen, could he force head coach Jay Gruden's hand and make the move to release Kory Lichtensteiger?
Like the old Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the other, which of these things does not belong"...you take a guess who that is.