Little things are handy for 1st-place Redskins
It's the little things that help turn an expected also-ran into a surprise first-place team. Take the story of Washington Redskins right guard Chris Chester - and how a subtle change in how he used his hand on a running play was seen as a milestone.
It seems when offensive line coach Chris Foerster was reviewing video from the 17-10 win over the St. Louis Rams before the bye, he noticed Chester used a hand instead of a forearm to shed the defensive lineman. The move allowed Chester to push the defender away and move onto the linebacker, creating a bigger opening for running back Tim Hightower.
''All year we had been talking about him doing it,'' Foerster said. ''And he did it. ... It's a little tiny thing, but believe me, it's huge in my world.''
There are a hundred reasons big and small why the Redskins (3-1) find themselves atop the NFC East, but the coaches love to point out the meticulous, bit-by-bit improvements from players all over the roster. While hand placement and footwork hardly make for glamorous conversation, the offensive line will quickly point out it helped produce 196 yards rushing and no sacks allowed against the Rams.
''It was something I'd been working on this whole time and had a little trouble practically applying,'' Chester said Monday when asked about the hand maneuver, which he had to master this season as part of his adjustment to the zone blocking scheme after signing with the Redskins as a free agent. ''But last week I was able to do a better job with it, and we rushed for some 200 yards. Those details make a difference. It's especially apparent at this level. Everyone is so good. What it takes to get an edge is minute.''
Chester cited gymnastics as an example, saying 9.997 might be a good score while ''9.998 is like a gold medal.''
The player next to him on the line, center Will Montgomery, went for the golf analogy.
''Each year I've been in the league you have to improve or you get bumped out of the league, whether it's your footwork, your balance, your hand placement,'' Montgomery said. ''It's kind of like in golf. The biggest, strongest guys don't always win; it's all about the smooth technique of the swing. The same with the o-line - the smooth technique of your hands, your feet, your balance.''
While the line had its best game against the Rams, no one is about to declare it the second coming of the legendary Hogs from the Redskins' Super Bowl teams. St. Louis is a struggling team, and stiffer tests are on the way. Next up are the Philadelphia Eagles (1-4), who were the consensus pick to win the division and whose early struggles are even more surprising than Washington's early success.
''By no stretch are we where we want to be,'' Chester said. ''But at the same time we are making progress, and that's encouraging.''
Chester is the only one of the five starters new to the team. Montgomery and the others marvel at how far they've come when they look at the film from last season.
''Everybody kind of gets it more,'' Montgomery said while seated at his locker.
As he was speaking, reserve lineman Erik Cook poked his head over Montgomery's shoulder, as if to playfully disrupt the proceedings.
Montgomery would have none of it. Without missing a beat or turning his head, he raised his left hand and gave Cook a hard, playful slap in the face.
''See that hand placement right there?'' Montgomery said jokingly as Cook walked away. ''I work on it every day.''
NOTES: Coach Mike Shanahan offered a preview of how he plans to build up the Eagles, who are one of the league's biggest disappointments. ''They're moving the heck out of the football,'' he said. ''They've got some great weapons. They're scoring some points. All four of those games they've lost with turnovers.'' ... WR Anthony Armstrong was on the field Monday but remains limited with the hamstring injury that caused him to miss the game before the bye. ''He practiced what he could ... I didn't ask him to push anything until Wednesday,'' Shanahan said. ''But I feel like there's a good chance'' that Armstrong will play against Philadelphia. ... Shanahan said Hightower, whose nagging shoulder injury gave Ryan Torain the opening for a big game against St. Louis, is still a little sore ''but I don't think it'll keep him out.'' Shanahan wouldn't say which back will start against the Eagles. ... The coach said FB Darrel Young ''looked pretty good'' after missing two games with a hamstring injury. ... Shanahan said practice was ''a little rough'' as players returned after five days off. He ran them through some extra conditioning drills at the end. ''I kind of wish we didn't have as much time off as we had,'' CB DeAngelo Hall said. ''I think a lot of guys were a little bit rusty, a bit tired out there today. We'll work ourselves back.'' ... The Redskins placed rookie CB Brandyn Thompson on the practice squad. Thompson was released from the 53-man roster last week after CB Phillip Buchanon returned from a four-game suspension. CB Nate Ness was cut from the practice squad.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP