Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Former Reb Notes in the Pros

I read this yesterday while I was in the airport in Memphis about the former Greenwood resident and Jackson Prep graduate.

ASHBURN, Va. -- Joe Gibbs did not call Todd Wade on Jan. 1 just to convey best wishes for the new year. Instead, the Washington Redskins coach wanted the tallest player on his team to switch jobs.
Wade's response?
"I told him: 'Coach, I'm 6-8. I'm not a guard.'"
But Gibbs is nothing if not persistent. He called the former Ole Miss standout about once a week, knowing that he would need a new left guard if Derrick Dockery left as a free agent. When Dockery did just that -- signing an eye-popping, seven-year, $49 million contract with the Buffalo Bills in March -- Wade began to feel that Gibbs could be right: It might be better to move from tackle to guard rather than start over with another team.
"The biggest deal is coach Gibbs kept on me all of offseason, which is odd for me," Wade said. "It was very personal. ... When Derrick became a free agent, that opened up a whole new ballgame."
So, while Jason Campbell's pinpoint throws and new linebacker London Fletcher's leadership on defense might have been the most noticeable sights Saturday at minicamp, a very important experiment was taking part in the trenches. There was Wade, who has made a career of playing at the edge of the offensive line, squeezing his very tall body in between center Casey Rabach and left tackle Chris Samuels.
"I think I could do it -- but it would definitely take some work," Samuels said. "Todd's finding that out. He's a natural tackle guy, played tackle at college and in the pros, now they're sticking him in a different position. I think it's a little bit hard on him because he's so tall as well, but he's been progressing every day."
To the fan sitting in the top room of a huge stadium, there may not seem many differences among the five players who make up the line, but each requires a different set of skills and muscle memory.
On pass plays, the tackles live on an island, facing powerful but quick defensive ends in open space, while the guards have to contend with bigger defensive tackles in more confined quarters. Wade is finding that, at guard, he has less time to react -- while keeping his tall body low to maintain leverage.
"Something I originally thought would be easier is pass protection," Wade said. "The guy's so close to you. You have to take smaller steps."
Wade started 85 games over six seasons with Miami and Houston before tearing a knee ligament during the 2005 season. The Redskins signed him last year as a backup tackle, and he started one game late in the season when right tackle Jon Jansen was injured.
Wade gave in to Gibbs and re-signed with the Redskins on March 20, so he's had three months to study the intricacies of the guard position. It's been a long slog. For one thing, players aren't allowed to practice in pads until training camp begins in late July, so Wade can't actually hit the defensive players he's supposed to be blocking.
Also, Wade admitted that it wasn't until Friday that he finally understood a point that offensive line coach Joe Bugel had been trying to make regarding a certain technique used in pass protection.
"Sometimes you're not really understanding what the coach wants," Wade said. "Finally it kind of clicked, and I'm moving forward."

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