The happiest person at the VMAC today may have been offensive line coach Tom Cable, who for the first time this camp got to work with the offensive line he envisioned all along.
That line features Russell Okung at left tackle, James Carpenter at left guard, Max Unger at center, J.R. Sweezy at right guard and Justin Britt at right tackle.
Okung, Carpenter and Unger all missed the preseason opener against Denver due to injuries, Okung still rehabbing off-season foot surgery and Carpenter and Unger mending nagging calf and groin injuries, respectively.
Carpenter is now back full go, and Unger and Okung each got some work during team drills.
“It’s nice this week we are getting guys back in the lineup, which will help,” Cable said after practice. “We’ll see where we are at on Friday in terms of who plays and all that. But I think moving forward now we had everybody in the huddle today for the first time so we will continue to increase those reps as we go.”
As Cable noted, it’s too early yet know for sure who will play against the Chargers Friday night.
Of more importance is that the return of the line to its desired state means more than enough time to get ready for the regular season opener against Green Bay Sept. 4.
“I think we are on the track that we had set in terms of Russell coming back, James coming back, he was full today and then Max is still limited,” Cable said. “Russ and Max it’s now just increasing their work each day. And then if they are ready to go on Friday then we’ll see, and if not we’ll go to the next week. I think we have done it right, though it’s tested the patience a little bit. But it’s okay because we’ve developed some depth, too.’’
Playing without three starting OLs against Denver made for an uneven performance, especially with the Broncos appearing to blitz a bit more than might be expected in a preseason opener.
Cable called the performance of his line in that game “really average.”
Two players he said stood out were guard Stephen Schilling, who played the final three quarters in place of Sweezy, and Britt, who played the first half.
“I thought Schilling did some really cool things at guard,” Cable said. “I thought the rookie, Britt, got better and better as it went, which was really nice to see. But the rest of it to me is kind of hit and miss.”
Schilling is getting lots of work at center this week as the team is giving him an extended look at that spot to see if he can display the ability to play multiple positions well — versatility is critical with just seven or eight OLs usually active gameday.
As for Britt, Cable said what was most impressive was how he adjusted during the game. Cable said there was an early play where Britt and Schilling “botched one up,” each moving too far outside on a play that resulted in a quarterback hit.
“And then after that, it was never really an issue for him,” Cable said. “So that’s the transition, figuring it out and then fixing it in-game, and he did a wonderful job of that for a young guy. … what were issues in the first series or two became less and less by halftime.”
Cable said two other players the team will take a long look at this week are RT Eric Winston and guard Wade Smith, each veterans (Winston nine years, Smith 12) the team signed as free agents since camp began.
“We should see more out of Wade Smith now,” Cable said. “We should see a little bit more out of Eric Winston now. I think we are getting an idea of what they are, so now we need to get them in the game a little more in terms of really competing and being in the mix.”