Commanders’ offensive line shuffles again ahead of Giants

Must read

ASHBURN — During the two months he was sidelined with a concussion, Wes Schweitzer received what he called “life-changing” treatment from doctors who specialize in head injuries. The medical team had the Washington Commanders offensive lineman undergo vision therapy, which Schweitzer said helped aid his recovery.

“I feel the best I have in years,” Schweitzer said. “I’m feeling energized and I’m ready to go play well for this team.”

The Commanders are going to need him. For Sunday’s rematch against the New York Giants, Washington will have Schweitzer start at center in place of Tyler Larsen — the veteran who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the previous meeting. 

Larsen’s loss was a meaningful one for the Commanders as the 31-year-old provided stability to a position that had undergone near-constant shuffling the first month or so of the season. 

When Larsen got hurt mid-game earlier this month in New York, the Commanders turned to veteran Nick Martin with Schweitzer already on the field at guard in place of injured Sam Cosmi (ankle). But now that Washington is getting healthier at guard — normal starter Trai Turner (knee/ankle) said he expects to play Sunday after missing the last game — Washington will turn back to Schweitzer. 

A natural guard, Schweitzer last started at center in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles — a game in which Washington gave up a season-high nine sacks. But coach Ron Rivera said he believes center is a “great spot” for Schweitzer, who Rivera praised as a smart player.

“The biggest thing is we just got to make sure we communicate in terms of what the protections are,” Rivera said. “Anytime they have to run stunts or any time they’re running pressures, we have to pick them up and handle them.”

The Commanders failed to do that consistently in their first meeting against the Giants. Facing a blitz-heavy defense, Washington gave up five sacks — its most since the first Philadelphia game in September. Only of those sacks, however, came after Larsen’s fourth-quarter injury. 

Still, Washington’s ability to reduce the number of sacks it has allowed over the course of the year has arguably been one of the more under-the-radar reasons why the team was able to turn its season around. And at first glance, the team’s quarterback change has a lot to do with that.  

Over the first six games, Carson Wentz was sacked 23 times — or an average of 3.8 per game. Since then, Taylor Heinicke has been brought down 14 times in seven contests — or an average of twice per game. Heinicke’s mobility, teammates and coaches say, helps in that regard. The quarterback uses his legs to escape the pocket and avoid pressure. 

But Heinicke is not the only reason Washington’s pass blocking has generally improved. The offensive line has gotten better play on the interior — from Larsen’s season debut in Week 6 to guard Andrew Norwell and Turner settling in as the year progressed. Turner, specifically, was hobbled by a quad injury that caused him to miss most of training camp and struggled to begin the year. 

Though he was initially benched for three games, Turner looked like a different player once he was reasserted to the lineup in Week 8. He finally resembled the stout, athletic veteran who played under Rivera for six seasons in Carolina.

“You want me to tell you what makes a difference?” Turner said. “I’m around a lot of guys who play just like me, who care just like me. It’s important to them as it’s important to me. 

“We respect the hell out of each other and work hard for one another.”

Turner credited the line’s improvement to how many veterans the group has — with left tackle Charles Leno, right tackle Cornelius Lucas, Norwell and himself all entering the league in 2014. Even Schweitzer is in his sixth year. And though it still took time for those veterans to coalesce, Turner suggested the Commanders had to go through those struggles to find their identity.

To that point, Washington’s shift to a run-centric offense also helped alleviate the burden on the team’s passing game. “A lot of times, once you figure out what’s working, it works,” Turner said. 

As for his health, Turner said he “feels like Week 15,” but should be “ready to roll” against the Giants. If Turner can’t go, Cosmi was a full participant in practice — meaning he would likely be Turner’s replacement. That allows Washington to put Schweitzer at center.

Asked if he was concerned about Schweitzer possibly suffering another concussion, which would be the fourth of his career, Rivera said he “does worry” about him, but added the 29-year-old worked hard to return.

“Wes is a very conscientious young man,” Rivera said. “He did a lot of work while he was in the protocol going through what he goes through in that and he stayed in shape. He really did. I mean he came back, he was in tremendous physical shape, and it’s good to see him back healthy and to see him back out there playing.” 

More articles

Latest article