Thursday, October 7, 2010 11:15 AM
By Rich Tandler
Going into the season, the Redskins 53-man roster was the oldest in the NFL. As of December 31 of this year, the average age of the players on the roster is 28.41 years of age. According to an NFL media release, fifteen Redskins are 30 or older, tied for second behind Cleveland for the most in the league. Washingtons starting lineup on opening day was a bit older than the average of the roster. The 22 starters against the Dallas Cowboys averaged 30.13 years of age. That is changing now. While there is not a full-blown youth movement taking place at Redskins Park, the starting lineup is getting a bit younger. Kory Lichtensteiger (25.8 years old as of 123110) has pushed Derrick Dockery (30.3) out of the starting job at left guard. Due to a groin injury that will keep Clinton Portis (29.3) out of the lineup for four to six weeks, Ryan Torain (24.4) is the teams new starting running back. On the defensive side of the ball, Lorenzo Alexander (27.6) will start at left outside linebacker, moving former starter Andre Carter (31.6) into a reserve role. In another injury-related change from opening day, Kareem Moore (26.4) recovered from a knee injury and reclaimed the starting free safety job from Reed Doughty (28.2). The net effect of the changes on the average age of the starters has not been huge. The 22 players who are projected to start on Sunday against the Packers will average 29.43 years old, a drop of 0.7 years or about eight-and-a-half months. Although these changes dont appear to be a part of a plan to get younger, Shanahan and the coaches like it when less-experienced players perform well. Youre happy when young guys do step up like Kory has and like Ryan has, he said. After smashing his way to the end zone, Torain takes over for Portis The change that is getting the most notice is Torain taking over for Portis, who has been the teams unquestioned starter at the running back position since coming to the Redskins in 2004. Portis has 2,225 career rushing attempts. Add in the 246 passes he has caught out of the backfield, and you have some significant mileage built up. A change to a younger back seemed inevitable at some point. Portis injury sped up the process, and now Torain will get his chance. By appearing against both the Eagles and the Rams a week earlier, Torain matched the number of career games he had played in since being drafted in the fifth round in 2008 by Mike Shanahans Denver Broncos. He injured an elbow in training camp his rookie year, putting him out of action until early November. After getting some mop-up work against the Dolphins, Torain got the start the next week in Cleveland. Torain gained 68 yards on 12 carries but tore his ACL in the third quarter of that game which ended his season. Shanahan was fired after the season and the new regime in Denver released Torain. The dreaded injury prone label likely made other teams reluctant to pick him up. He was out of football last year and the Redskins signed him on April 19. He looked good in training camp, and his 98 yards rushing led the team during the preseason. It was somewhat surprising when he was released during the final roster cuts in early September. Shanahan said that he took the risk of exposing Torain to waivers because he didnt think another team would claim him for the same reason that the player was out of the league last yearhis injury history. It worked out as the coach thought it would, and Torain was signed to the practice squad. Before the Rams game, he was moved to the 53-man roster and he was active against the Rams. He showed a flash in that game, scooting around the left side for a 37-yard gain. But it was against the Eagles that he earned his stripes. On his first carry of the game from the Philadelphia 12 yard line, Torain took a handoff up the middle and blasted Eagles safety Quintin Mikell out of his way on the way to the end zone. The play gave the Redskins a 7-0 lead and set the tone for the rest of the day. It elevated the team and motivated everyone, said Torain. Torain went on to gain 70 yards on 18 carries, demonstrating the ability to execute the one-cut running style that is necessary to produce in the Redskins zone-blocking scheme. Shanahan is not hesitant to dish out lavish praise for Torain. During his first training camp in Denver, he said of Torain, "He's one of the most gifted running backs I've been around for a long time. He is very similar to Terrell Davis when he came in. Davis once gained over 2,000 yards in the season and earned both the regular season and Super Bowl MVP honors. When asked about Torains ability on Wednesday, Shanahan said, Its really easy to see if youve been around it. I could tell you back when he was a rookie in Denver that hes got it. Hes a top back in the National Football League, no doubt about it. Lichtensteiger makes low-key move into starting job While Torains elevation has received a good deal of attention, Lichtensteiger almost snuck into the starting lineup. Like Torain, Lichtensteiger was a draft pick of Shanahans in Denver. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2008, 32 picks before the Broncos tabbed Torain. The Broncos released him after Shanahan left. He was on the Vikings roster for a few weeks in September of 2009 before they waived him. Soon after becoming the Redskins coach, Shanahan signed Lichtensteiger. It appeared that the Redskins had acquired Lichtensteiger for a reserve and developmental role. All during training camp, Dockery lined up with the first unit. He had been the teams starting guard since a few games into his rookie season in 2003 with the exception of the 2007-2008 seasons when he took a big free agent deal to play for Buffalo. In the opener against Dallas, however, Lichtensteiger was in the lineup in the place of Dockery for a few series. The next week against the Texans, Dockery and Lichtensteiger alternated series. Then, in the third game against the Rams, Lichtensteiger started and played every offensive snap. Dockery played only a few special teams plays. After the game, Dockery said that he was not surprised by his demotion and, according to Shanahan, he shouldnt have been. Before the third preseason game in New York, Shanahan told Dockery that Lichtensteiger was pushing him for the starting job. I talked to Doc before the Jets game and told him that this was very close. Im not sure which direction Im going to go, but I want you to know, you have the right to know, that the competition is very close, Shanahan said. Lichtensteiger is happy to be playing every snap. When youre coming in every other series, youre wondering, Am I the reason that these drives arent going, or am I the reason these drives are going? Its nice to get the full heat of the game and the full speed of the game, he said. Although he certainly is pleased to be the starter, he is not content. The good players in the NFL, theyre never happy with what they do, Lichtensteiger said. I thought I had a good game after we got on the bus and we got on the plane. But then we turned on the film and there were so many things I could work on in the run game and the pass game. Im never going to be satisfied. The One Man Gang lands a steady job Unlike Torain and Lichtensteiger, Alexander is not new to the Redskins. He has been with the team since the 2007 season. It was then that he became known as the One Man Gang as he lined up on the offensive line as an extra tackle in running situations, and on the defensive line at both tackle and end in addition to playing special teams. Along with Carter and a few others, Alexander made the transition from the defensive line to linebacker this year as the team switched over to a 3-4 defensive scheme. Alexanders move into the starting lineup was not expected before it was announced prior to the game in Philadelphia last Sunday, but it was not a surprise. Carter had been struggling making plays in space. Thanks to his special teams experience, Alexander is good at open-field tackling, and it seemed only a matter of time before he started getting more action at linebacker. On Sunday, the move worked out well for both players. Alexander made a few nice plays, including a tackle from behind running back LeSean McCoy that saved a touchdown. Carter got some action at defensive end, his old spot, and he got his first sack of the year and forced a fumble in the process. Carter and Alexander played an equal number of snaps. Alexanders biggest impact against the Eaglesboth literally and figurativelycame on special teams. The Redskins had taken a 7-0 lead on Torains touchdown run, detailed above. Jorrick Calvin took the ensuing kickoff and was making his way up the right sideline when Alexander found space between a couple of would-be blockers. He stopped Calvin in his tracks with a hit that probably was heard out on Broad Street. Shanahan called it an explosion and it intensified the adrenalin that already was flowing from Torains knockout.You can reach Rich by email atRTandlerCSN@comcast.net.Sendhimyourquestionsforourweeklymailbagfeature.
Rich Tandler has beenfollowing the Redskins since 1966. He has written three books on theteam includingGutCheck,TheGloryDaysofCoachJoeGibbsWashingtonRedskins1981-1992. Fordetails on this and on Richs other available titles, visitwww.RichTandler.com.