(photo by Brian Murphy)
If I had to identify one Washington Redskins player who is most vital to the team’s success this season, I’d have to go with left tackle Trent Williams.
Sure a case could be made for others – particularly quarterback John Beck, if he is indeed going to be the starter this season. But for my money, the Redskins will only go as far as Williams takes them.
If he struggles with consistency like he did at times during his rookie campaign, then it doesn’t matter who is lining up behind center for the burgundy and gold. But if he is able to build off of his first season and become an anchor on the offensive line who is able to fend off some of the best pass rushers in the league, the Redskins offense might actually be worth watching.
Simply put – how Williams fares on Beck’s blindside will go a long way towards dictating what’s in store for ‘Skins fans in 2011. To his credit, Williams knows it. And he’s not backing down from the challenge.
One of the most popular narratives concerning Williams during the lockout was his noticeable absence during the player-run workouts.
I had the chance to catch up with the second-year pro this week to ask him why he chose to skip those workouts and to see if he feels he’s up to the challenge of putting the entire offense on his broad shoulders. Here’s what he had to say.
During practice the other day, I saw something from you that brought a huge grin to my face. Linebacker Eric McBride tried to speed rush by you and, without hesitation, you pancaked him to the ground and then sidestepped over to seal off the edge before the second defender even got to you. Is this what Redskins fans can expect from you this season?
(Laughs). “Shoot. I hope I see a lot of that from me too,” Williams said. “It’s all about progressing and getting better every day. As long as you can keep the positive stuff going and keep your teammates going, we can all get better together. That’s the main thing with football being such a team sport.”
When we talked at the end of last season, you were surprisingly candid in your self assessment – saying you needed to be much better moving forward. Why were you so critical of yourself in your rookie season?
“I strive to be the best,” he said. “I won’t ever be able to be the best if I’m sitting around patting myself on the back. I’ve always got to be my biggest critic and I’ve always got to be honest with myself. Nothing is ever gonna be perfect, but you’ve got to push yourself and continue to push yourself to be as close to perfect as possible.”
I know some people complained when you opted to miss the player-run workouts during the lockout. Where were you and why did you decide to bypass those get-togethers?
“I was training down in Texas so I could be better for this team,” Williams said. “The only way I could get to where I want to be – which means being in the best shape of my life – was to go out and train hard. My teammates understand and knew where I was coming from, and to me, that’s all that matters.”
What type of stuff were you doing during these workouts?
“Everything from weightlifting to running to boxing,” he said. “I did O-line drills. I did it all.”
Wait … did you say boxing? What kind of boxer are you, big man?
(Laughs). “You know, I’m a beginner,” Williams said. “I was mainly doing it for the conditioning and the workout.”
I mean, you’re not a little guy. You connect on one of those punches and you could definitely knock someone out. Is that your fallback plan* if this football thing doesn’t work out?
*Yet another example of asking ridiculous questions to ensure a professional athlete never makes the mistake of taking me seriously.
“Definitely not,” he said, still laughing. “I think I’ll stick with this.”
A year ago, your head was swimming as you adjusted to life in the NFL. What’s your mindset this time around?
“Be better than year one,” Williams said without hesitation. “I want to help the younger guys. I want to avoid the pitfalls that I fell for a year ago and be a better teammate. I want to know the game better and be a student of the game. That’s what coach [Mike] Shanahan always says, and I take that to heart.”
Do you feel more comfortable here now?
“Oh yeah, definitely,” he said. “It’s night and day for me. It’s night and day.”
The news that your close friend and fellow tackle Jammal Brown is back in Washington can’t hurt either. That had to bring a smile to your face, right?
“Yeah, but I kinda already knew that was going to happen,” Williams said. “He told me he wanted to be back. He told me no matter what, he was going to be back here, so I always knew he was gonna be here – even if I held my card close to my chest.”
The offensive line was clearly a season-long issue for Washington in 2010. Williams was learning what it takes to make it at the highest level, Brown was struggling to get healthy after a hip injury and the interior of the line wasn’t exactly making life easier for quarterbacks and running backs.
If Williams can continue to progress at left tackle and Brown stays healthy on the right side, this offensive line might finally start to make some plays and create some space. The jury is still out on Beck as a starter, but my money is definitely on Williams and Brown to have a bounce back season in 2011.