With Kory Lichtensteiger battling calf and back injuries, the Redskins have serious issues with depth at center. This is nothing new.
When the Redskins got to the NFL Draft in May, some thought had Washington targeting Alabama center Ryan Kelly. A beast at 'Bama, 'Skins broadcaster Chris Cooley called Kelly the best prospect at his position in the draft by a wider margin than any other player at any other position. Drafting Kelly would have solved many of Washington's offensive line problems, but that plan went awry when the Colts picked Kelly with the 18th pick. Washington did not draft until 21, and eventually would trade down a spot and take receiver Josh Doctson.
With Kelly off the board, the Redskins returned to Richmond for training camp with Kory Lichtensteiger as their starting center. Though often a target of fan criticism, Lichtensteiger provides good leadership along the offensive line and expertly identifies defensive fronts, making calls quickly for his fellow linemates.
Despite that, Lichtensteiger has struggled at times playing center. Knowing that, Scot McCloughan attempted to make a trade for former Patriots center Bryan Stork in late August. The whole move for Stork was bizarre, as the player contemplated retirement and eventually failed his physical, nullifying the trade.
Beyond Stork, the Redskins worked to develop another center in Austin Reiter. A 7th-round pick in 2015, Reiter spent last season on the Washington practice squad and opened the 2016 year in the same spot. The Browns came in and poached Reiter to their 53-man roster, and this weekend, he will likley hit the field at FedEx though wearing a different uniform.
What makes Reiter's name so interesting is that injuries to not just Lichtensteiger but also left guard Shawn Lauvao mean that backup center/guard Spencer Long must play center as there is nobody else capable on the roster. Jay Gruden said Monday that the team will be forced to bring in a "center-type" player this week as there are no other healthy options outside of Long.
With Long at center and if Lauvao is out as many suspect, the Redskins must turn to second-year man Arie Kouandjio at guard, or move veteran Pro Bowler Trent Williams inside and play Ty Nsekhe at tackle. Neither option is ideal.
Injuries to Lichtensteiger and Lauvao are causing the musical chairs on the Redskins offensive line, but it's not like the Washington brass didn't know they had little depth in the middle. Despite their efforts - Kelly has now started three games for the Colts as a rookie, Stork failed his physical, and Reiter is in Cleveland - they just could not fix it in time.
The Redskins will be testing their depth on the offensive line over the next few weeks at least as both starting left guard Shawn Lauvao (ankle) and starting center Kory Lichtensteiger (calf) are dealing with injuries.
When both players went out early in the second half against the Giants the solution was to put Spencer Long in at center and, since the team only keeps one interior lineman active on game days, move Trent Williams from left tackle to left guard.
Long had put in plenty of practice time as the backup center but Williams had not lined up as guard during any kind of practice at any time. He managed to fake his way through the game and the Redskins scored enough points to win but that’s not something that the Redskins want to do except in a dire emergency. They want their Pro Bowl left tackle at the most important spot on the offensive line.
The next man up is Arie Kouandjio, a fourth-round pick in 2015 who has played a total of one snap. Although the Redskins likely will look to add some interior line help this week assuming that both Lauvao and Lichtensteiger are out, it looks likely that Kouandjio’s second NFL snap will be as the starting left guard this Sunday against the Browns.
The Alabama product has the mental toughness and nasty attitude that the coaching staff loves. But he has issues with his technique and his ability to block at the second level or pull effectively is very questionable. There was a competition for the starting left guard position this offseason but Kouandjio was never a serious contender for the job. Some were speculating that Kouandjio could be a surprise roster cut at the end of training camp but apparently the coaching staff thought that it was worthwhile to keep him around and continue his development.
It looks like the time for development is over and it’s time for Kouandjio to show what he has learned. We will see how it turns out.