Grading the Redskins: Questions at right tackle persist

Grading the Redskins: Questions at right tackle persist
January 14, 2013, 10:30 am
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Over the next two weeks, CSNWashington.com Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2012 and evaluate its outlook for 2013. Today, we're taking a look at offensive tackles.

Grade: B+

2012 starters: Trent Williams and Tyler Polumbus

Key reserves: Maurice Hurt, Jordan Black, Tom Compton

Key free agents: Polumbus and Black

Rewind

In camp, the offensive line ranked among the Redskins’ biggest concerns. By Week 17, though, the unit had proved itself to be an integral part of the NFL’s top rushing team -- and tackles Williams and Polumbus played a big role in that success.

Williams returned from last season's four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy determined to justify his hefty contract as well as the fourth overall pick the Redskins used to select him in 2010. And the 24-year-old left tackle did just that, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Williams’ breakout performance came against Minnesota’s five-time Pro Bowl end Jared Allen, who wasn’t much of a factor in the Redskins’ 38-26 victory. Allen recorded a sack, but tight end Logan Paulsen missed the block. Williams earned acclaim for that early-season performance and built upon it, anchoring an overachieving unit while holding a number of the league’s best pass rushers in check. In fact, according to ProFootballFocus.com, Williams was at fault for only four of the 33 sacks Redskins’ quarterbacks absorbed.

On the other side of the line, Tyler Polumbus missed one game because of a concussion but started 16 others in place of the injured Jammal Brown. Although Polumbus won’t be confused with the league’s elite players at his position, the 27-year-old earned the coaching staff’s trust and was often praised for his football acumen. He also likely performed well enough as a run blocker to prove he’s starting lineup material – even if it’s not in Washington next season. 

Depth, however, became a concern down the stretch.

In Week 16, Polumbus was battling a concussion and his backup, Jordan Black, had just been suspended for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. That left the Redskins with a tough choice: utility lineman Maurice Hurt, who had never started at tackle, or rookie Tom Compton, who had yet to take a snap on offense. Ultimately, the team tapped Hurt, who, all things considered, produced an adequate performance as Redskins beat the Eagles, 27-20.

Fast forward

Several key decisions loom for Coach Mike Shanahan at this position. First and foremost, he must decide what to do with Brown, who aggravated a lingering hip ailment on the eve of training camp and did not suit up in 2012. The 31-year-old attempted a post-bye-week comeback but was forced to abort when significant soreness returned on both sides, creating doubt about Brown’s future in Washington.  

Brown's clouded future leaves Shanahan facing the following quandaries:

  • Is there a reasonable expectation that Brown will play in 2013?
  • If not, does the coaching staff believe Polumbus can be a long-term solution at the position?
  • If the answer to both of the above questions is no, then Shanahan must decide whether to acquire a right tackle in the draft or in free agency. Keep in mind, though, the Redskins do not possess a first round draft pick and the team is still facing an $18 million cap penalty next season. 

The simplest solution would be to bring back Polumbus, who just completed a one-year, $700,000 contract. Re-signing Polumbus likely would come on cap-friendly terms and also would help keep intact the continuity most successful offensive lines boast.

That’s certainly the outcome Polumbus is hoping for.

“Getting as many reps as I got, you’re going to grow and get better,” he said as the players cleaned out their lockers at Redskins Park last week. “I had some ups and downs over the course of the season, like everybody does, but I learned from my mistakes and tried to get better. …I certainly have no idea what the future may hold, but I know I want to be back here.”

Whatever Shanahan decides to do with regard to the starter on the right side, it’s also possible he’ll seek additional reserve depth. The team is high on Hurt and likes Compton’s upside, but it might make sense to target a veteran to replace Black, whose four game suspension would include September’s opener.