ASHBURN, Virginia -- The Washington Redskins haven't ruled out Trent Williams for Sunday, knowing how many times he's played hurt in the past. But the reality is this: Williams hasn't been able to practice this week, leaving the Redskins to prepare for his absence.
Williams, still dealing with a knee issue stemming from the Oct. 2 game at the Kansas City Chiefs, worked off to the side with the athletic trainers Thursday. Coach Jay Gruden said Williams can "possibly play" against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, but that his left tackle is sore. It will depend how he progresses over the next couple days.
If Williams can't play, the Redskins would start T.J. Clemmings at tackle. Their top backup tackle, Ty Nsekhe, remains sidelined with a core muscle injury. Clemmings started 30 games at both right and left tackle in two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, but was cut this summer.
Without Williams, the Redskins will run their same offense, but clearly will have to alter what they have Clemmings do -- and shelve certain plays. Williams' athleticism makes him a unique player at left tackle and is one reason he's a five-time Pro Bowler. There are times, for example, on receiver screens in which Williams will be asked to block down -- selling the run -- then sprint out toward the numbers to throw a block in space.
"There's nothing he can't do," Gruden said. "He can pull. He can run. He can get out on screens. He can protect. He can run block."
Gruden said they can have quarterback Kirk Cousins take deeper drops with Williams in the game protecting his blind side.
"You may limit those and work on maybe the quicker passing game," Gruden said, "and more play-action stuff. Get some help for the tackle here and there where Trent doesn't want any help. If I give him help, he gets upset. But I feel good about T.J. and where he's at. I don't think we'll have to change a whole lot. We just have to be aware that sometimes the open side left tackle, we're so used to having Trent in there, that when he's not in there we just have to be aware. That's all."
When Williams missed four games last season the Redskins used the same amount of play-action as they had in other games (six per game). They averaged 8.15 air yards per pass attempt for the season; in those four games they were below that number twice, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But that was with Nsekhe in the game, someone they consider capable of being a full-time starter.
Clemmings joined the Redskins after the final cuts. If nothing else, Williams' absence has given him more reps and that's provided him a chance to get used to Cousins' cadence, for example. It also helps him adapt a little bit to the rhythm of the offense and the protections.
"This is new to him," Gruden said. "We have to get him up to speed. It's been a great couple of days for him. He's doing a much better job."