Column: What does Keith Ismael’s future hold in Washington?

SDSU+junior+center+Keith+Ismael+looks+down+the+field+during+the+Aztecs%27+23-14+win+over+UCLA+on+Sept.+7+at+the+Rose+Bowl+in+Pasadena.+

Kareem Jones

SDSU junior center Keith Ismael looks down the field during the Aztecs' 23-14 win over UCLA on Sept. 7 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

by Dustin Magallanes, Contributor

Having a great offensive line is as close as you can get to a cheat code in the NFL.

Of the eight division winners from last season, all but one team (Houston Texans) had an offensive line that ranked in the top half of Pro Football Focus’ annual offensive line rankings.  

Despite being the only outlier, the Houston Texans did not hesitate in rewarding their left tackle Laremy Tunsil with a shiny three-year, $66 million contract extension, allowing for Tunsil to be the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league. This shows that although they may not be as flashy as the star receiver or as pivotal as the franchise quarterback, talented offensive lineman continue to be worth their weight in gold.  

With the 2020-21 season looming, the Washington Redskins knew they needed  to bolster their line in order for second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins to have ample time in the pocket. The answer  may have come in the form of fifth-round selection center Keith Ismael, who is coming off an impressive junior campaign for the Aztecs.  

During his three year stay on the Mesa, Ismael was able to earn All-Mountain West recognition three times, including the honor of being first team All-Mountain West in his last two seasons.

Ismael’s success in keeping defensive lineman at bay allowed him to separate himself from the pack in the Mountain West Conference. His accolades combined with his imposing size (6 feet, 3 inches and 309 pounds) all contribute to Ismael being an intriguing rookie prospect with enough upside to warrant starting consideration for the Redskins.

Currently, Washington’s projected week one starting center is Chase Roullier. The former Wyoming lineman is coming off three commendable seasons for the Redskins after being drafted in the sixth round in 2017.

Roullier’s strength in pass protection could prove to be a breath of fresh air for newly crowned head coach Ron Rivera.

But Roullier will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and with so many holes on the Redskins roster, his return is far from being a guarantee. Since continuity is so important for offensive lines, though, it is going to be an uphill battle for Ismael to supplant Roullier for the starting center spot.

With that in consideration, if Ismael is to earn a starting nod, he may have to exercise some versatility position-wise that he often showed glimpses of at SDSU. During a draft interview, he explained how playing for the Aztecs groomed him into a resourceful football player:

“My offensive line coach (Mike) Schmidt, he put a lot of responsibility on me to lead the line,” Ismael said in an interview on Redskins.com. “Wherever he needed me week-in and week-out, I was ready to play. He rotated me in over my years at right guard and at center, so I feel comfortable playing all positions. Wherever they need me, I’m willing to put the work in to contribute.”

This past offseason, the Redskins lost their starting left guard in Ereck Flowers to the Miami Dolphins, leaving an important vacancy for the team to fill. Currently the options at left guard come in the shape of former Atlanta Falcons guard Wes Schweitzer and his namesake Wes Martin.

Although Schweitzer has been lauded for his intelligence, he often was relegated to a reserve role throughout his tenure with the Falcons. For Wes Martin, he showed promise at right guard last season filling in for the injured Brandon Scherff, but he is by no means a mainstay in the Redskins’ offensive line.  

Starting left guard is certainly in the cards for Keith Ismael in his rookie season. With NFL offensive training camps being postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is going to take some self-discipline to garner attention from his new coaches. But if Ismael’s dominance at SDSU showed us anything, it’s that his work ethic is not something that should be doubted.

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