Washington needs left tackle Trent Williams to return from suspension ready to perform at a high level next season. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
It's true that Washington's offensive line was better in 2011-12 than it was in 2010-11. It's also true that saying so is the definition of faint praise. The Redskins proved this year that "better" does not mean "good."
The unit had some good moments -- particularly in the running game after the coaching staff discovered the toss stretch -- but it's pass protection was terrible and it allowed far too many negative plays. According to the data at Advanced NFL Stats, Washington's QBs were sacked 39 times and hit another 94. That's 133 times that Washington QBs dropped back to throw and were heavily pressured -- tied with Miami for 3rd most in the NFL. Add in "tackles for a loss" and Washington's offensive line contributed to the 5th most negative plays in the league this year.
Here's a quick tour of this year's personnel:
Trent Williams: D- -- Williams deserves worse for failing multiple drug/IQ tests, but he was at least solid when he was healthy enough to play. The Skins need more from their top pick in the 2010 draft.
Kory Lichtensteiger: Inc. -- The coaching staff viewed Lichtensteiger as the team's best run blocker, but the second year scrapper wrecked his knee in the season's 5th game and missed the rest of the season. He's signed cheap for next year, so he'll get a shot at proving he's recovered and able to play. His best position may actually be center.
Will Montgomery: F -- Montgomery got pushed back routinely on running plays and beaten up the middle on pass plays. He was better at center than his brief stint at guard, but he's not good enough at either spot.
Chris Chester: C -- A free agent signee from the Ravens, the Skins hoped Chester would be a quality performer in their zone blocking scheme. He got better as the season went along, but the Skins need him to get stronger. His contract is reasonable.
Jammal Brown: F -- Whether it was injury or age, Brown had trouble moving and was ineffective most of the season. It's telling that Washington's line got better when Brown was replaced at right tackle by street free agent Tyler Polumbus.
Sean Locklear: F -- The veteran tackle started games at both tackle spots and showed why Seattle didn't strain themselves to keep him around. As an NFL scout said when the Skins inked Locklear at the start of training camp,"He looks great, but there's a problem. He can't play."
Maurice Hurt: C+ -- The rookie got his chance at left guard when Lichtensteiger got hurt and the experiment with Montgomery at left guard and Eric Cook at center failed. Hurt excelled in run blocking, but his pass protection deficiencies suggest he's best as a reserve -- at least for now.
Tyler Polumbus: B -- Polumbus was a mid-season pickup who filled in at guard and then right tackle. He proved to be a road-grader on the run, but struggled at times in pass protection because of his slow feet. Still, the street free agent was an upgrade over Brown at tackle and did enough to earn a solid chance at making the team in training camp next year.
Willie Smith: C+ -- Smith was an undrafted rookie free agent, who fought hard and made the practice squad. He got his shot when Williams was suspended and Locklear was ineffective. In a familiar refrain, Smith was solid on the run, but had some pass-blocking gaffes. Still, he showed enough promise to hope that with work on his technique and an offseason in the team's conditioning program that he could be a solid backup or perhaps even a future starter at right tackle.
Eric Cook: F -- He had a chance to play center when Lichtensteiger got hurt, but was terrible. After three games, the Skins moved Montgomery back to center and Cook back to the bench.
Here's how I look at the line for next season:
Left Tackle -- Trent Williams
Left Guard -- ???
Center -- ???
Right Guard -- Chris Chester
Right Tackle -- ???
Reserve Tackle -- Willie Smith, Tyler Polumbus
Reserve Guard -- Maurice Hurt
Reserve Guard/Center -- Kory Lichtensteiger
It's possible that Lichtensteiger could start at left guard or center, and that Smith could take that right tackle spot. I'd prefer that Washington fill those spots with starter-quality players from outside the organization. If they could use free agency and the draft to add three new starters, the four hold-overs from last year would give Washington something it hasn't had in what feels like forever: depth in the offensive line.