With Jansen cut, three are in the mix for Redskins' right tackle job

ASHBURN, Va. -- At the end of last season, one of Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn's biggest concerns was right tackle, a vital position that opens holes for running back Clinton Portis and keeps quarterback Jason Campbell on his feet.

Five months later, when the Redskins took the field Monday for the final set of spring practices, the story was the same.

"This position," Zorn said, "is legitimately open."

What was different was that Jon Jansen was nowhere to be seen for the first time in a decade. The 1999 second-round draft pick -- the team's longest tenured player -- was released Friday, and the Redskins will have to grow accustomed to his absence.

"He understood a lot of what was going on," Redskins center Casey Rabach said of Jansen. "I make all the calls, but he fed me information. You lose that. He's the guy who (has) been around forever who knows everything and has seen everything. Anytime a friend of yours leaves a team, it's no fun."

But the Redskins felt it was time to move on without Jansen, who's 33 and had been hindered by injuries for five straight years. He signed with his home-state team, the Detroit Lions, on Monday.

Before looking forward, however, Zorn did something unusual before Monday's practice. He spoke to the offensive linemen about their departed colleague.

"I didn't want to have any speculation as to what may have happened and why and all that," Zorn said. "I was specifically talking to the veteran players, Randy Thomas, who has played beside him and is one of his best friends, Rabach, and then Chris Samuels. Those guys had played together for a real long time."

Now the race is on to fill Jansen's shoes, a contest that ends when the season opens Sept. 13 against the New York Giants. The contenders are an undrafted player entering his third NFL season, a veteran with a disconcerting off-the-field history and a comeback player who is losing weight at an astonishing rate.

Stephon Heyer, the undrafted contender, is the current favorite -- if only because he's the one who was on the Redskins' roster last year. Heyer has 12 starts over two seasons in Washington, but he needs to improve his run blocking.

"I guess it's one of those where you go, 'It's yours to lose,'" Heyer said. "But it's not really something you want to say. It narrows down the competition a little bit, but it's still competition nonetheless. Nothing's guaranteed."

Then there's Jeremy Bridges, who can play guard or tackle and has 39 starts over six NFL seasons. The Carolina Panthers considered him a valuable reserve, but he was cut in February to clear salary cap space. It didn't help that he was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges twice while with the Panthers, although the second set of charges was dismissed Monday.

Zorn said Bridges is in the mix for the right tackle spot but hinted that the lineman might have to settle for a backup role as an interior lineman, especially with the news that Thomas had arthroscopic knee surgery last month.

And though Thomas is expected to recover in time for the start of training camp in late July, Bridges was listed as a guard on the roster distributed at Redskins Park on Monday.

Bridges is confident he can fit in quickly, no matter the position.

"It's a copycat league. No disrespect to the offensive coordinator, but there's only so much you can do in the NFL," Bridges said. "Just terminology. That's what it's basically about, learning how the Redskins do things as opposed to how Carolina did things."

The wild card remains Mike Williams, who said Monday that he is down to 381 pounds, from 450 in February and 404 in late April. The former No. 4 overall draft pick hasn't taken an NFL snap in three seasons, but the Redskins are impressed by his off-the-field preparations and his enthusiasm.

"He's rusty at the comfort level of being back in it," Zorn said. "He has the furthest to come, but he has tremendous talent."

Williams gave an update on his weight plan, saying he's enjoying turkey loaf instead of meat loaf and is researching the benefits of bison to satisfy his yearning for the occasional steak. He also wanted the world to know that players' wives -- specifically his wife, Enisha, and teammate Derrick Dockery's wife, Emma -- don't have the best of diets, either.

"I'm going to bust this myth," Williams said. "And I want this to be aired out. Don't let them fool you. We eat much better than they eat. ... They bring cookies. ... They sneak out. We were out there working in Arizona, they sneak out and go to In-N-Out Burger. Me and Derrick are sitting in the apartment, and we sniff, sniff -- 'Who's been eating burgers?' They're so bad."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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