Redskins' Hicks demonstrates versatility with switch to guard

ASHBURN, Va. -- Artis Hicks is like the schoolchild who spent all semester learning Chapter 3 of the book, only to be told by the teacher that the test is going to be on Chapter 4.

"You know?" Hicks said. "That's why you've got to know the whole book, I guess."

Hicks signed with the Washington Redskins in March and spent the entire offseason learning the position of right tackle, fully expecting that to be his spot in the starting lineup this season.

Then came the change-up. When he arrived for training camp, Hicks was the starting right guard instead. Projected right guard Mike Williams had been lost for the season because of blood clots, and Jammal Brown had been acquired in a trade to play right tackle.

"The first couple of days, I was making a lot of mistakes," Hicks said, "because I hadn't taken any reps at right guard. ... I was playing high. My feet were kind of out of whack. It was frustrating, to be honest, but I just came out with the mindset that I'm going to correct what I did yesterday and keep improving."

The Redskins have overhauled three-fifths of their line from last year's woeful season, and successful adjustments are the key for the new group to succeed. Not only has Hicks changed positions, but Brown is mastering a switch from left tackle to right tackle. Meanwhile, No. 4 pick Trent Williams has perhaps the biggest adjustment -- the leap from college to the NFL as a well-paid rookie expected to protect Donovan McNabb's blind side.

"I think everybody knows what the difference can be in having a good offensive line," said center Casey Rabach, who joins left guard Derrick Dockery as the two holdover starters. "Last year was a tough year. We didn't hold up our end of the bargain."

Due to injuries and under performance, the Redskins used 10 starting linemen a year ago. They allowed 46 sacks, tied for fourth most in the league, and they were one of only seven teams not to average 100 yards rushing per game.

Four players who started games a year ago -- Stephon Heyer, Chad Rinehart, Edwin Williams and Will Montgomery -- are now backups at training camp, but no one is feeling comfortable just yet. Trent Williams certainly looks as good as advertised, but Hicks hasn't been a regular starter since 2006, and Brown missed all of last season with the New Orleans Saints due to a hip injury that has lingered into this year's camp.

Also, everyone -- including the returning starters -- is having to learn the zone-based blocking scheme used by new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

"When you don't have continuity along the offensive line, you don't have a productive line," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. "But it's a new day, new coach, everything's new. We've had a re-adjustment. Everything needed to be retooled."

Brown made two Pro Bowls playing left tackle with the Saints and hasn't been a regular right tackle since his rookie season in 2005. Early at Redskins camp, coaches had to remind him to correct his footing -- he was still positioning himself as if he were still on the left side.

Then his left hip started acting up again. He has been out of practice since the middle of last week and won't play in Friday's exhibition opener against the Buffalo Bills, robbing him of vital practice and playing time at his new position with his new linemates.

Hicks has been a utility man in recent seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, so he's no stranger to right guard. Yet it's still not easy switching back in a new offense.

"The biggest difference is not so much the plays," Hicks said, "because if you can learn right tackle, you kind of know what the right guard is doing because a lot of what we're doing is zone scheme -- we're intertwined. But the biggest difference is things happen 'now,' whereas when you're a tackle on the outside, you sit back and let guys come to you. You can be more patient. But, inside, you have to react -- now."

Notes: Running back Clinton Portis sat out most of Tuesday's practice because of a sore left groin. "I don't think he pulled anything," coach Mike Shanahan said. "He's getting treatment, so hopefully there's no setback and he'll be ready to go tomorrow." ... Receiver Malcolm Kelly (hamstring) won't play Friday. ... Quarterback Richard Bartel was limited in practice with a sore hamstring. ... High-priced defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth stuffed a pass from Rex Grossman during practice, prompting a fan to call out: "That block right there cost a million dollars."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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