Ron Rivera has officially gone through the bulk of his first free agency with Washington and has his inaugural draft class under his belt since taking over as the Redskins head coach in early January. As Rivera continues to overhaul and construct the roster to his liking, he's prioritized one key trait: versatility.
Offensive lineman Keith Ismael, who the Redskins nabbed with their fifth-round selection in this past April's draft, not only fits right into that category but also believes his versatility will separate himself from his peers at the NFL level.
"I feel like I’m one of -- if not the -- most versatile linemen in this draft class," Ismael told local media on Thursday.
The scouting report on the offensive lineman can justify his claim. Ismael started three years for San Diego State, and while center was his main position, he has experience at both guard spots. Ismael earned All-Mountain West honors every year he started for the Aztecs, with first-team nods both in his sophomore and junior seasons.
"I feel comfortable playing all three interior positions," Ismael said. "I know coach Rivera and [Redskins offensive line coach John] Matsko know that I have the tape to back it up. Wherever I’m needed, I’ll go and play just like I did in college -- plug and play guy. They call me the Swiss army knife on the line."
Being able to play both center and guard is something that likely stood out to the Redskins coaching staff. By having experience at multiple positions, Ismael now has a good understanding of the specific responsibilities of each individual spot along the line. That knowledge will help the rookie at whichever position he ends up playing for the Burgundy and Gold.
"[My versatility] allowed me to also be very knowledgeable," Ismael said. "I knew what every single person was doing, so I was able to get a really good sense and grasp on the offense in college and now especially at this level, I have to. I have to know the ins and outs, every play, every scheme, everything we’re doing."
When playing center, one of Ismael's most important responsibilities will be calling out protections and communicating them to the quarterback. The San Diego State product explained that he's comfortable doing such, as he did so in college.
In Washington, the team has wasted no time getting Ismael in communication with the quarterbacks. The rookie explained that he's already gone through a centers and QBs meeting that discussed protection communication. With the Redskins, Ismael will have more responsibilities playing center than those he had while playing the position at San Diego State.
"That’s one thing different though, now, I have the ability to flip the protection," he said. "I didn’t have that in college, but now I do, which is really cool."
Throughout the draft process, one of the biggest strengths that constantly came up regarding Ismael was his sound technique. While Ismael feels that his versatility is one of his biggest strengths, it's his technique that he also feels distinguishes him from his counterparts.
When asked about it, Ismael credited his former offensive line coach for helping him polish that aspect of his game.
"My offensive line coach at San Diego State, Mike Schmidt, he’s always on us, to what we need to do right consistently," Ismael said. "I’m naturally a perfectionist at heart, and so when you tell me this is the way that it needs to be done, this is how we get to it."
The 6-foot-3, 310-pound center explained that his excellent technique allows him to make up for any physical disadvantages he may face.
"Anything where I’m lacking, where maybe a guy is bigger, stronger, faster than me, my technique and my knowledge of the play and of the block will take me further," he said. "That’s how I can make up for any physical discrepancies."
The Redskins currently have a hole at left guard, as Ereck Flowers signed a three-year deal with Miami in free agency. Chase Roullier and Brandon Scherff are expected to hold down the center and right guard positions, respectively.
As a fifth-round pick, Ismael understands he's going to have to fight for playing time. But the offensive lineman is confident that what he brings to the table will allow him to stand out in the nation's capital.
"Right now, for as long as I can remember I wanted to be a player in the National Football League, and I want to be the best at my position that ever was," Ismael said.
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