SNIDER: Washington's improvement is on the line


The Great Wall has always been about defense since the Chinese built one to repel invaders. And, the Washington Football Team's defensive line is the key to building long-term success.

But what about the offensive line? Washington is quietly making its most changes since 2000 when drafting left tackle Chris Samuels with the third overall pick just one year after taking right tackle Jon Jansen in the second. The bookends lasted nine years together to protect a rotating wheel of passers.

Washington opened minicamp on Tuesday with left tackle Charles Leno, left guard Wes Schweitzer, center Chase Roullier, right guard Brandon Scherff and right tackle Cornelius Lucas. That's a new left and right tackle, only this time finding veterans instead of rookies to protect fellow free agent veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Schweitzer ended the year hurt last season as a tepid starter. Roullier remains a rock while Scherff is the only legit Pro Bowler now playing on his second franchise tag. Translation: who knows if he's around in 2022.

Overall, three new faces are a lot for a line on an offense still trying to find its identity. Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner will likely throw even more than last season when the running game was largely forgotten amid huge early deficits. While Peyton Barber has been making plays throughout offseason camps, the running game is still Antonio Gibson with J.D. McKissic in motion.

No, the only way this team improves is downfield and that means protecting quarterbacks longer. Coach Ron Rivera knew his line was outmatched and made repeated offseason moves to improve not only its first string, but reserves. Indeed, second-round pick Sam Cosmi may be a reserve at right tackle rather than an automatic starter. Massive injuries over past seasons showed the team needs depth and youth, one reason it released tackles Morgan Moses and Geron Christian.

If Washington is to repeat as NFC East champions against the NFL's ninth toughest schedule, its line must give Fitzpatrick more time than his predecessors received last year. It's just straight banging on the inside and more speed on the outside because teams know Fitzpatrick can be pressured into turnovers. Indeed, he threw an ugly pick during the minicamp opener to William Jackson III. It's just who Fitzpatrick has been over a 16-year career with 169 interceptions versus 223 touchdowns. Indeed, Fitzpatrick has thrown double-digit interceptions in 9 of 16 seasons with a career 59-86-1 mark.

The key is chemistry. Does Washington have enough time for the group to be of one mind? Scherff has always played aside Moses so that comfort level is gone. And, there's no saying Ereck Flowers or Cosmi might emerge as opening-day starters to further rework the line.

The new era started on a muggy morning in Ashburn before a chorus of cicadas that often crashed into players. Given the overall experience, the line should come together more quickly. Really, it has no choice if Washington is to contend.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.

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