SEABROOK — The Washington Redskins preseason is slipping into an uncanny valley.
On July 28, a large offensive tackle wearing a white number 71 practice jersey came to the podium. The number 71 had been worn by Pro-Bowl left tackle Trent Williams for the last nine seasons in Washington. The large offensive tackle who came to the podium Sunday wearing Williams’ jersey was not him, but rather his teammate Morgan Moses, who came to send a message — the team needs Williams back.
The first week of training camp in Richmond has been dominated by the absence of Williams, which is the biggest mystery as the Redskins begin their preseason. Williams is holding out.
However, the reason he is doing so is not a mystery. Perhaps it is because of the way the Redskins medical staff missed a possible diagnosis of a growth or perhaps because the seven-time Pro Bowler feels he is underpaid, Williams has opted to forgo Redskins training camp for the moment.
“I really don’t know man. Obviously, I can talk to him and it can be one thing and then he said something else,” Moses said of Williams’s holdout. “I just know when he gets here, man, we’re going to welcome him with open arms. He’s our brother; we love him. When he gets here, we’ll rock out.”
Moses spent a small part of his press conference pretending to be Williams, joking that he was holding out for “a couple of pizzas and a Pepsi.” Unfortunately for Redskins fans, this could be the closest thing they get to see of their starting left tackle in Richmond.
In leading up to training camp, team officials said they expected Williams to be in camp. Now, knowing that Williams’ holdout could last a while, the team placed him on the Reserve/Did Not Report list and signed veteran tackle Corey Robinson as an insurance policy.
Williams’ holdout began with him skipping the team’s mandatory minicamp in June, with various reports that either he wanted a new contract, or that he was unhappy with the treatment from the team’s medical staff or both.
In April, Williams underwent a medical procedure to remove a growth from his head. While the growth was benign, some speculated that Williams was upset that the team’s medical staff missed the diagnosis.
At the moment, Williams has not spoken publicly about his holdout, leaving much of the discussion to what team officials say and what various media outlets report. For now, the team will have to continue without perhaps its best player. That is why the team is so desperate to get him back and why Moses demonstrated a show of support for his teammate on Sunday.
“I miss him. Well, see my most wanted shirt wasn’t ready yet, so I had to opt-out for the jersey,” Moses said.
For the last nine seasons, Williams was a bull on the Redskins’ offensive line, playing arguably one the most important positions in football by protecting the quarterback’s blindside. In the past decade, the team has gone through various coaches and quarterbacks and has ping-ponged from the bottom to the top of the division year after year, all while Williams has played consistently at a high level, earning seven Pro Bowl selections.
Head Coach Jay Gruden, who is entering his sixth year with Washington and only one playoff appearance to show for it, said he knows the pressure is on him this year. Like Moses, Gruden knows the team needs Williams back.
“It’s weird not to have him here,” Gruden said. “I obviously hope everything works out and that he’s back here. He’s not only an elite offensive tackle; he is the best offensive tackle in the game, and I know a lot of guys will say that their teammate is. But I can say with confidence that Trent is that. We need him on this team. I hope he’s back here sooner than later.”
Add the fact that the team is likely to have a new starting quarterback this year. The team drafted Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick and traded for Case Keenum from Denver. Also, the fact that incumbent Colt McCoy has struggled with staying healthy his entire career and Williams’ absence becomes all that more important for a team — and a coach — that needs to win this season.
“I think obviously finding the continuity offensive line-wise is very important,” Gruden said. “I’ve always believed in pro sports about getting after the quarterback, protecting your quarterback, being able to establish the line of scrimmage and creating a new line of scrimmage if you’re on defense.”