As I've said, lots of stuff still in the notebook from the time I spent in Virginia at Redskins camp this week. One of the hot topics of conversation was second-year left tackle Trent Williams, whose performance overall as a rookie was disappointing. Williams is the key to improved offensive line play, without which Washington will struggle no matter who's at quarterback. The Redskins coaches are hoping he can play like the No. 4 overall pick in the draft should, and that he can do so more often than he did last year.
"Trent definitely showed us last year that his ability is that of a top draft pick," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told me. "He's the most talented guy I've ever seen. Now, we need him to play like that. He shows how talented his is, but he's too up-and-down. He had times last year where he dominated his guy, but then he'd have times where he'd just whiff on his guy."
Shanahan's theory is that a player as talented as Williams has been so good all his life that he hasn't had to think about ways to get better or more consistent.
"When you're dealing with a guy who's as talented as he is, they've never really had to think about, 'What's the best way for me to block this guy?'" Shanahan said. "Their whole lives, they've just shown up and kicked everyone's butt. And he does that, at times, in the NFL, which is how talented he is. But I think he learned last year that he won't last if he plays that way. These guys are too talented, too smart, they study too much and, even if you have a good game, if you do something wrong, they're going to have a scheme to set you up the next game."
For his part, Williams isn't kidding anyone about the way his first year went. His reviews are in line with Shanahan's.
"I had flashes of stuff that looked so promising, and then sometimes didn't look so promising," Williams said. "So I just want to be consistent. I tried to come into camp bigger, stronger, faster, but I think a lot of that has to do with just being comfortable and, obviously, second year in the system, second year in the NFL. I'm a lot more comfortable than I was last year."
He'll anchor a line that stands as one of the team's chief concerns, with Kory Lichtensteiger at left guard, Will Montgomery moving to center, newcomer Chris Chester at right guard and Jammal Brown at right tackle. All but Chester were on the team last year, and Williams believes that will help.
"The way our system works, we don't need a bunch of big names to be productive," Williams said. "If all five of us are working together on our zone scheme, we can get a 1,000-yard rusher. We can make games easier by being able to run the ball. Our protections are so easy and set up for us to do well, we don't have any choice but to improve."
Indeed, the zone-blocking scheme Redskins coach Mike Shanahan made famous in Denver is set up to make an offensive line and a running back look good -- as long as it's executed properly. With Tim Hightower, Ryan Torain and Roy Helu the leading candidates to start at running back for the Redskins, that execution will be paramount.
"Coach Shanahan has the zone scheme kind of broken down to a science," Williams said. "He took backs that one one had heard of and made them Pro Bowl running backs just with his system. As long as we're working together, it makes the back's job easy, because there will be lanes in the defense and gashes in the defense that he can hit all game long, hopefully."
That is the hope, at least. A lot of it will rise and fall on Williams' ability to improve on his rookie season.