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Jay Gruden is clearly worried about the offensive line, with good reason

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Redskins head coach Jay Gruden Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, Jay Gruden said that there was no update on Trent:

“There is no update on Trent.”

Interestingly, the last question of his Thursday press conference was about which position group really needed to continue to improve. Jay’s usual modus operandi is to say something along the lines of, “All of the position groups need to improve,” and then to go on to list two or three positions, naming a half dozen players and talking about how it is the job of the coaches to get them ready.

He didn’t do that this time. He waded straight into the answer:

“I think obviously finding the continuity offensive line wise is very important. I’ve always believed in pro sports about getting after the quarterback, protecting your quarterback, being able to establish the line of scrimmage and creating a new line of scrimmage if you’re on defense. So, I think [the] offensive line is what we’re really looking at right now. We’re looking at everybody but we need offensive line to step up and find the right guys.”

I think this is more than just an unspoken commentary on Trent Williams’ absence. Jay watched the season implode last year as the Redskins lost linemen to injury. On the first day of camp, Chase Roullier was out and Tony Bergstrom was in because Chase apparently had a hamstring injury. The team is clearly looking to fill the long-standing hole at left guard, and spent two mid-round draft picks to help make that happen.

Jay Gruden and the Redskins have typically relied on having a team that is strong in the trenches, and they have invested draft resources on both sides of the ball to make that happen.

Increasingly — and especially this off-season — it is apparent that team is trying to get faster. Faster at running back. Faster at wide receiver. Faster at linebacker. Faster at safety. It looks like self-scouting has told the Redskins that they were too slow to compete.

But this is a team that believes in the big-uglies packed in near the ball. This team should be lining up Trent Williams, Wes Martin, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses to face off in training camp against defensive players like Ryan Kerrigan, Daron Payne, Jon Allen, Matt Ioannidis and Montez Sweat. Jeez! Just looking at the names listed like that sends chills down my spine!

Instead, here is where we are on Day 1 of Training Camp:

The Redskins play an NFL regular season game in Philadelphia on 8 September — about 45 days from now. They need to be building strength, coordination and understanding among the various offensive linemen. Instead, Williams in holding out and Roullier is missing time due to a hamstring.

This needs a quick fix.

Ereck Flowers

Predictably, Jay Gruden was asked again on Thursday about Ereck Flowers and his role. Jay repeated the new line that he recently adopted - that Ereck Flowers was brought in to play offensive line, and that, while the original plan was to try him out at guard, his presence on the roster allows the team to take advantage of the fact that Flowers has experience at both tackles spots.

Here’s exactly what Jay said on Thursday:

We got Ereck Flowers being an offensive lineman. If everything went perfectly there is a chance that we move him to guard. If everything doesn’t work out then the great thing about Ereck is that he has played both left tackle and right tackle, so odds are we start him out at tackle in training camp up here. Get Wes Martin and some of these other guys some reps at guard, Zac [Kerin]. It is a good opportunity for those other guys and a good opportunity for Ereck to get back out there at tackle, because you know you can never have too many tackles anyways.”

I get the sense that Jay is being careful with his words here. He has a script in mind, and I think he’s trying to leave himself lots of wiggle-room. Jay’s wording on Thursday was very similar to what he had to say just a day earlier:

We brought Ereck Flowers in here to be an offensive lineman. The initial idea was to play him at guard, but also understanding that he has the ability to play at both right and left tackle. He has never played guard and we’re going to try to transform into guard. If need be we can put him back outside at tackle, no problem. He has learned both of them already through the OTA process. We will just wait and see where we are at. Having him at left tackle [or] having Wes Martin at left guard is not a bad thing, having him at left guard and having Geron Christian at left tackle is not a bad thing.

You can see that Jay is trying to stay on script here, with his quotes from Wednesday and Thursday being really similar. The one difference is that, on Wednesday, Jay made reference to Flowers at “left tackle”.

I think this was a slip on Jay’s part. Listening to him, I get the feeling that he is trying really hard not to use the name “Ereck Flowers” and the position “left tackle” in the same sentence. When he said it on Wednesday, he followed up (and in my mind, he was covering a slip) by then talking about Flowers at left guard and Christian at LT to make it sound like he’s just spit-balling.

I suspect that the Redskins are trying hard not to build a narrative of Ereck Flowers as the answer to the hole at left tackle caused by Trent’s holdout.

The fact is, however, the Redskins have very few options, and none of them seems appealing:

One option is Geron Christian, who was drafted a year ago, but saw very limited snaps before being lost for the remainder of the season to injury. Christian did not inspire with his play in 2018, but he has been talked about as a ‘project’ pretty much from the time he was drafted.

Morgan Moses provides an option at left tackle as well. If the Redskins become convinced that Trent Williams is going to continue his holdout into the regular season, perhaps the coaches will experiment with Moses on the left side during preseason. He had 43 starts in his UVa career, and he started all 12 games at left tackle in his senior season. It’s often not ideal to ask a guy to switch when he’s been playing effectively on one side of the line, but one or two teams do it every year.

It seems worth noting that the Redskins have not filled the 90th roster spot created when Mason Foster was released immediately prior to the start of camp. Could there be a trade in the works that the team wants to keep under the radar while they continue to discuss the Trent Williams situation with his agent? Jeremy Parnell, Ryan Schraeder and Donald Penn are all available free agents, all on the wrong side of 30, and all likely to be significant steps down from Trent Williams.

Despite dire predictions from numerous sources regarding the Redskins outlook for 2019, the team has a good mix of youth and veterans and promise at every position group. The defense played very well for half a season in 2018, and there are reasons to believe the defensive roster and coaching have improved. The running back room is talented and deep. Reports from the first day of camp say that Jordan Reed looks great. The wide receiver group is young, with potential.

There really seem to be two big questions facing the Redskins:

  1. Do they have a quarterback capable of running Jay Gruden’s offense in 2019?
  2. Can they field a talented offensive line made up of 5 skilled players who can work together to open holes for the run game and protect the quarterback?

If Trent Williams returns prior to the start of the season, I’ll feel much better about the second question, and that will help make the first a bit less critical.

But if the Redskins are forced to enter the season with a makeshift offensive line that lacks its veteran leader at left tackle, then all those dire predictions could come true.

With Trent Williams and a competent quarterback, the 2019 Redskins have a shot at a winning season. Otherwise, the best news for Redskins fans in the coming year may be the excitement over the hiring of the new head coach and the buzz of selecting at the top of the draft.

We’ve only seen one day of training camp, but it’s already clear that the Redskins need to solve the current issues with the offensive line if they want to be able to compete this season.