There are about 90 players on the roster of the Washington Redskins right now, but the team will have to trim down to a final roster of 53 before the start of the 2016 season. Here is an early look at what that roster might look like, position by position. This time we cover the offensive line. Starters in bold.
ON THE ROSTER: Cody Booth, Nila Kasitati, Arie Kouandjio, Shawn Lauvao, Josh LeRibeus, Spencer Long, Brandon Scherff
LIKELY TO MAKE THE ROSTER: Arie Kouandjio, Josh LeRibeus, Spencer Long, Brandon Scherff
ANALYSIS: Brandon Scherff, the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, locked down the right guard position for Washington, playing all but one play for the entire season. Scherff started strong and improved throughout the year, becoming the team’s second best lineman by the time of its December playoff run. The Skins hope they can leave Scherff there for the next decade or so and just forget about him as he forges a career of Pro Bowl appearances.
The mystery at guard is on the left side of the line. We don’t know who will make the team, we don’t know who will start and we don’t know who, if anyone, will be moved to another position. A year ago the job belonged to Shawn Lauvao, coming off a poor 2014 season. Lauvao improved and looked strong in the first two weeks of the season, when the Skins led the NFL in rushing. However, Lauvao suffered a season-ending injury in week three and still doesn’t look right. In January he was riding on a scooter rather than walking and it is not currently known if Lauvao, who missed all OTA this spring, will be ready for the start of training camp, the start of preseason or even the start of the regular season. If Lauvao comes back healthy he is the favorite to start at left guard again since he was playing at a pretty high level when he was injured. One outstanding issue is that Lauvao has a $5 million cap number for 2016 and the Skins could clear $4 million by releasing him, incurring only $1 million in dead cap money. I don’t think the Skins will do that if they think Lauvao is going to reclaim his starting job, but it would be odd for the team to keep him if he’s not going to be a starter. Lauvao is currently the 9th-highest paid player on the team and second on the offensive line.
In fact, I’m going out on a limb and predicting that Lauvao will play in training camp/preseason, but will not be sufficiently recovered for him to fight off his challengers at this position. First and foremost, Spencer Long, who started 13 games last season in Lauvao’s absence, has a claim on the position. Long started slowly, but improved throughout the season, becoming a pretty good guard by the end. I’m still not convinced he’s much of a run blocker, but, to be honest, offensive linemen in the NFL are not paid for their run blocking anymore. Long showed good progress as a pass blocker and that could be enough to get him the job back. Long is currently being tried at center, as well as guard, and if he works out there he could be Washington’s starting center in 2016. However, I’m going to predict Long gets one more season at left guard before moving to the middle.
Breathing down the necks of both Lauvao and Long is Arie Kouandjio. Right now, I have Kouandjio probably taking over the left guard spot in 2017, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it happens a year earlier. There are still big questions about Kouandjio’s technique, but he’s aggressive, strong, powerful and can really maul a defender if he gets his mitts on him. He spent most of 2015 on the inactive list, but if he shows up for training camp in shape and with a far more polished game than the starting job is his to lose.
Josh LeRibeus can play both guard and center and that’s what can keep him on the team. He started 11 games at center in 2015 after Kory Lichtensteiger suffered an injury that kept him out of the lineup until the January home playoff loss to Green Bay. LeRibeus improved over the course of the season, but that was starting from a low point. His snaps were frequently off line and he never became a good run or pass blocker. He did show improvement, however, and if he shows more of it in training camp, I think his versatility will buy him one more season in Washington.