Mike Shanahan Taking a Big Risk with the Washington Redskins Offensive Line

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2012

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 02: Will Montgomery #63 and Kory Lichtensteiger #78 both of the Washington Redskins defend against the St. Louis Ramsat the Edward Jones Dome on October 2, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Washington Redskins beat the St. Louis Rams 17-10.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Washington Redskins offensive line has been a weak point during Mike Shanahan's two years in charge, and he took a big risk when he ignored the unit in free agency.

April's draft yielded three unheralded prospects in interior utility man Josh LeRibeus, undersized guard Adam Gettis and tackle Tom Compton. By opting for this trio, Shanahan passed on more marquee prospects and seems intent to enter the 2012 campaign with the same front five that surrendered 41 sacks in 2011.

That statistic may be slightly skewed by the 10 sacks given up against the Buffalo Bills in Week 8, but that is still no cause for comfort.

Nevertheless, one reason for optimism could be the return from injury of left guard Kory Lichtensteiger.

A Shanahan favourite, Lichtensteiger solidifies the left side of the line, which is where the Redskins direct most of their running plays. The fourth-year pro has the most experience in Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. If he can finally stay healthy, Lichtensteiger will make a big difference.

However, the return of just one player probably won't make many feel too confident about this offensive line, particularly on the right side. Tackle Jammal Brown must begin to play like the skilled lineman Shanahan thought he was getting when he traded with the New Orleans Saints in 2010.

With Jason Babin and Justin Tuck to contend with twice a season, Brown has to improve his pass protection. The 31-year-old must be quicker out of his stance and more decisive with his hands.

2011 free-agent pickup Chris Chester was solid, but nothing more at right guard. The ex-Baltimore Raven is a natural fit for the Redskins scheme, but can be overpowered by bigger defensive tackles.

The Redskins line was soft in the middle on too many occasions last season. Bills youngster Marcell Dareus and Philadelphia Eagles journeyman Derek Landri both dominated the interior of Washington's front. Getting more physical on the inside is vital heading into the new season.

This is where LeRibeus can make a difference. He plays with a high level of aggression and is scrappy in the trenches. Back in early May, the Washington Post reported that LeRibeus saw plenty of action at center during the team's rookie minicamp.

He could offer more tenacity than current starter Will Montgomery. Gettis is another fighter along the interior, who shouldn't be discounted. Despite his lack of elite size, the former Iowa ace combines initial quick feet and strong hands with a good degree of physicality.

Aside from the interior, the most interesting position to watch could be left tackle. Trent Williams needs to play up to his natural talent level. He has been inconsistent during his first two years in D.C. and had his 2011 campaign cut short by a four-game suspension for drug abuse.

Williams has a large wingspan and a nasty edge. If he can speed up his footwork, he could be dominant in pass protection. The Redskins need him to be, in an NFC East featuring DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul and Trent Cole.

Having an athletic scrambling quarterback like rookie Robert Griffin III will improve the running game and could ease some of the burden in pass protection. However, key members of the Redskins' front five must perform better and Shanahan has taken a big chance by sticking with the same personnel.