Jay Gruden is continuing the process of transforming the Redskins’ offensive line. The Redskins were first and fifth in the NFL in rushing yards in 2012 and 2013, respectively but the line that opened the holes for Alfred Morris and protected Robert Griffin III and gave him some running room is mostly gone.
They took the next step in the line’s transformation last week when right guard Chris Chester, who played virtually every snap at right guard since the start of the 2011 season, was released. Spencer Long is lining up with the first team at Chester’s spot and Gruden is expecting the second-year player to start there this year and perhaps for a long time to come.
“He’s a big man. He’s tough and he’s smart,” said Gruden after Wednesday’s OTA session at Redskins Park.” I think he missed a lot of the season at the University of Nebraska his senior year. Coming back last year it was important for him to slowly get into it. I think having a year under his belt, knowing the system, I think the confidence coming into Year 2, we feel good about his progress.”
Gruden said on multiple occasions during the 2014 season that Long was close to pushing past Chester on the depth chart but as a rookie he never did break through. Perhaps the injury to which Gruden alluded, a torn ACL that ended his 2013 senior season at Nebraska in mid October, had something to do with it. But now they are going to entrust him with the position.
One of the things that the Redskins like about Long is that they believe he can be effective at both zone blocking and power blocking. Gruden said that the team will run a mix of both zone and power this season.
“Spencer is a very powerful man and very good for the power running game, the gap-style blocking, but he also has some great movement skills,” said Gruden. “That’s what drew us to him in the first place because when we drafted him, we were an outside zone team here in the past and we wanted to try to get to more gap-style, and we thought he could do both, which is what drew us to him.”
Gruden is under some pressure for his O-line changes to work. As noted, the Redskins ranked in the top five in rushing the two seasons prior Gruden’s arrival. They slipped to 19th in Gruden’s first season in Washington.
Quarterback sacks also increased under Gruden, from 43 in 2013 to 58. Some elementary film analysis shows that the sacks were not all the fault of the line, that the quarterbacks themselves and the other blockers were responsible for a share of them. That said, it was clear that the line could have done a better job protecting the passer.
This is the way that the NFL succession planning is supposed to work. Chester is 32 and had a salary cap number of well over $4 million. Long is younger (24) and cheaper ($673K cap number). He was drafted in the third round with the idea that he would be able to take Chester’s job sooner or later. We will see if the organization picked the right guy for the job.