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Do the Redskins need an upgrade in the middle of the line?

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Do the Redskins need an upgrade in the middle of the line?

Over the next few weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2015, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2016. Previously, we took a look at the defensive line and offensive tackles. Today, the interior offensive line is up.

Interior offensive line

Grade: C

2015 starters: C Kory Lichtensteiger, LG Shawn Lauvao, RG Brandon Scherff

Backups: Spencer Long, Josh LeRibeus, Arie Kouandjio, Brian de la Puente

Free agents: LeRibeus (de la Punte was waived before final game)

Rewind: Before we get to the part about injuries taking their toll let’s talk about the rock of the offensive line, Scherff. He played all but one of the team’s 1,163 offensive snaps (including playoffs). Only a missed snap against the Bears in Week 14 kept him from having perfect participation.

Not only did Scherff play a lot, he played well. He allowed just two sacks all year and he did well run blocking. There certainly is room for improvement there and he need to play at a consistent Pro Bowl level for him to justify his status as the fifth pick in the draft.

Lauvao started the year at the other guard spot but he suffered a broken ankle in Week 3 and he was on the shelf for the rest of the season. Spencer Long, a 2014 third-round pick, took over the starting job. Long, who was the starting right guard during OTAs and the first week of training camp until the team decided to move Scherff from right tackle to right guard, played pretty well. His run blocking was inconsistent but per Pro Football Focus he did not allow a sack and per the NFL he did not commit a penalty of any sort.

Lichtensteiger started the first five games and was struggling, perhaps due to a neck injury that ended up sending him first to the game day inactive list and then to short-term injured reserve. He missed the last 11 regular games and was activated for the playoff game against the Packers.

LeRibeus filled in for Lichtensteiger and while his blocking improved as the season went on his shotgun snaps were an issue. Although, fortunately, none sailed over Kirk Cousins’ head the quarterback often had to focus on handling a snap that was low or wide left or wide right rather than looking at the defense as the play started to unfold.

Kouandjio basically took a redshirt season. He was active for six games but only took one offensive snap. After it became apparent that Lichtensteiger would be out for a long time the team signed de la Puente. It was thought that he would challenge LeRibeus for the starting position but he never did. When Lichtensteiger was activated de la Puente was cut.

Fast forward: Let’s start with what’s not going to change. Take a Sharpie and put Scherff at the top of the depth chart at right guard we’ll proceed from there.

At center, Lichtensteiger will turn 31 next month and his cap number is just over $4 million. He’s not ancient and that’s not a huge cap hit but he is getting to the point where Scot McCloughan might think about going younger and cheaper at the position. There has been talk of Long moving over to center although at this point that talk is little more than fan and media speculation. A draft pick could also be Lichtensteiger’s replacement.

At left guard, Lauvao’s health is a big question mark. When he talked to the media the day after the playoff loss he had just undergone another surgery. It’s no sure thing that he will be ready for training camp or even the regular season. Uncertainty about Lauvao may keep Long at guard, at least in the short term. The coaches are high on Kouandjio’s potential and if there is a legitimate competition for the starting job he would have a good shot at winning it.

LeRibeus is an unrestricted free agent. There hasn’t been much talk about him returning or not but it would not be surprising to see him wind up elsewhere. 

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Looking for a free burger? Sit close to Redskins QB Alex Smith

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Looking for a free burger? Sit close to Redskins QB Alex Smith

Pro tip: If you see new Redskins quarterback Alex Smith in a restaurant, try to sit close by.

Talk to teammates and media from San Francisco or Kansas City, the two cities Smith played in before coming to Washington, and stories like this emerge. His reputation for generosity and random kindness is as consistent as his ability to move the football with his legs and not throw many interceptions.

His foundation is heralded as one of the best in the NFL, where more than 90 percent of funds raised actually go towards charity, significantly higher than the national average. Once traded from Kansas City, Smith wrote a letter on The Player's Tribune thanking fans:

Thank you to the Chiefs Kingdom for being some of the craziest, most dedicated fans in the country. And thank you to the Kansas City community and all the friends my family and I have made during our time with you. To see all the farewell donations that have been made to the Alex Smith Foundation — all in increments of 11 — has been really special. It’s a tremendous gesture that my family and I have been very touched by. We appreciate you. We’re better people because we were fortunate enough to spend the last five years with you.

So what might have Smith ordered at Bareburger DC? Let's take a guess from their online menu. 

  • The Buckaroo - Beef, aged cheddar, smoked brisket, wild mushrooms, smoke sauce, brioche bun - After spending a few years in Kansas City, Smith might have acquired the taste for brisket on burgers. Who knows.

  • El Matador - Beef, queso fresco, guacamole, spicy pico de gallo, pickled jalapeños, green leaf, brioche bun - Smith is a SoCal kid, so maybe he needed the guac and bold flavors of his youth. 

  • Impossible Burger - American cheese, caramelized onions, dill pickles, green leaf, special sauce, brioche bun -The Redskins mission is getting to the playoffs, and many oddsmakers view that as impossible. Maybe Alex wanted to embrace it?

  • So Cal - Turkey, aged cheddar, guacamole, pickled red onions, alfalfa, sprout bun - Again, Smith is from Southern California, and this burger sounds pretty healthy. You don't get to look like this picture below by eating too many Buckaroos. 


Here's the truth: Smith is cool and bought a bunch of random people dinner. What's cooler: He doesn't have or use social media to broadcast when he does random nice acts. 

This week he and the Redskins travel to Richmond for training camp, and things will get serious about football and the 2018 season. Enjoy the fun stuff for now. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

#REDSKINSTALK PODCAST

Don't forget to subscribe to the #RedskinsTalk podcast, hosted by JP Finlay.

Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below.

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10 Questions in 10 Days: After Kerrigan and Preston, do the Redskins have enough pass rush?

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10 Questions in 10 Days: After Kerrigan and Preston, do the Redskins have enough pass rush?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

No. 5: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

No. 4: After Josh Norman, what's the plan at cornerback?

No. 3: After Kerrigan and Preston, do the Redskins have enough pass rush?

Ryan Kerrigan does not get the national respect he deserves. Year after year, Kerrigan proves to be one of the best sack specialists in the NFL. Last season, he finished tied for fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks, and ranks in the Top 5 for sacks over the last three years. 

Kerrigan is durable and more than capable, and gives the Washington defense an anchor at outside linebacker. Opposite Kerrigan comes Preston Smith, a fourth-year player that has shown a ton of potential and the ability to take over games. 

Smith is yet to go for double digit sacks in a season, but going into a contract year, this might be his best shot. He also contributes in other ways; an ability to tip passes and grab interceptions, force fumbles with his long frame, and even enough speed to keep up in some pass coverages. 

Kerrigan is a high-end Mercedes Benz. Smith is a 3-series BMW with a chance at the M3 engine. After that, the cars don't look so good. 

Make no mistake: Free agent addition Pernell McPhee could be a great value signing for Washington. If he stays healthy.

He hasn't played a 16-game season since 2014, and last year, he started just five games and logged only four sacks. His frame is much bigger than a typical 3-4 outside linebacker, which means he might help more against the run in base defense. McPhee graded out well by Pro Football Focus last year, and plenty of scouts think he can deliver this fall. Again, if he stays healthy. 

After McPhee comes second-year man Ryan Anderson. He delivered zero as a rookie. Zero. 

Plenty of players, however, make a big improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. Maybe Anderson is that player in 2018. 

A second-round pick in 2017, Anderson played sparingly in 14 games last year and delivered just 11 tackles. No sacks. Coaches said Anderson was not in NFL shape when he arrived as a rookie, but that excuse won't fly this time around in training camp.

The Redskins need Anderson now, in a way the team did not last year. 

Going to camp in 2017, outside linebacker had strong depth. Kerrigan, Smith, Trent Murphy and Junior Galette were the veterans Anderson could learn behind. Now Murphy is in Buffalo and Galette is unsigned. 

There is some hint that Galette could still land back in Washington. The team does not have a true speed rusher, and Galette would change that immediately. Kerrigan is a brute force tactician, and Smith is an athletic handful, but neither possess the speed of Galette. 

That signing seems like a long shot, and odds are the Redskins will need a lot from Anderson or McPhee. Or both. Neither Kerrigan nor Smith has ever missed a game in their career, a remarkable feat, but hardly something the organization should rely on. 

Improved play along the interior of the defensive line will help the outside by a large margin. If Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis collapse pockets from the inside, then Kerrigan and Smith will feast off the edges. 

That could trickle down for McPhee and Anderson as well. But much as the defensive line improves with more depth and rotating players, so too does outside pass rush. Washington made a smart move to bolster their interior defensive line this offseason, but it left the defense a little leaner on the outside. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

#REDSKINSTALK PODCAST

Don't forget to subscribe to the #RedskinsTalk podcast, hosted by JP Finlay.

Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below.