SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As Carlos Rogers slumped into his locker Thursday afternoon at the San Francisco 49ers’ training facility, he looked around and slowly grinned that full-on, top-to-bottom white-tooth grin that was once prominent in Washington, but is only now reappearing. “This would be like a normal day in Washington,” he said, surveying the media corps, which has ballooned considerably given the 49ers’ appearance in Sunday’s NFC championship game against the New York Giants.
“But I’m chill, man,” Rogers said. “Real chill.”
It is almost too easy a task to track down former Redskins and ask them to compare their current situations to those in Washington. Others have left Ashburn and found success elsewhere — Brandon Lloyd in Denver and St. Louis, Ryan Clark in Pittsburgh, Andre Carter in New England, on and on.
Rogers is the latest, and currently greatest, example. The ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft by Joe Gibbs’s Redskins, he made eight interceptions in six years in Washington, dropped countless more, was occasionally benched by former defensive coordinator Greg Blache and wasn’t as consistent as current coach Mike Shanahan would have liked. On a one-year deal with the 49ers, perhaps the best defensive team in the league, he had six interceptions, was versatile enough to play both outside and in the slot, earned his first Pro Bowl berth and is about to play for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
So sit back, 2,400 miles away from Ashburn, chill — and smile.
“I needed a fresh start,” Rogers said. “I wanted that, my last two years, out of Washington.”
Rogers’s final two seasons with the Redskins were after Gibbs and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams were gone. Rogers doesn’t fondly remember those times – the chaos of Jim Zorn’s final season as head coach, then the tumult of Shanahan overhauling the roster and the mind-set. He said he was tired of it all, “everything that goes on around there.”
“Coach Zorn, he didn’t really have control of that team,” Rogers said. “He just was that coach that they all of a sudden picked as a fill-in. He wasn’t the coach that they really wanted. That’s why he was gone after two years.
“With Coach Shanahan there, all that stuff sounds good — his record, his track record. But I wasn’t a big fan of that whole thing that was going on in Washington.”
Why? He sighed.
“It was probably more me just wanting to be out of there,” Rogers said. “It probably didn’t have nothing to do with them. I was just ready to leave.”
So he left, though not for the kind of deal he once envisioned – a one-year contract worth $2.125 million, with a $2.125 million signing bonus. The 49ers, entering training camp, were a team in transition as well, with new Coach Jim Harbaugh hiring a new staff and installing both a new system and a new attitude. The easy question, then: Compare his former organization to his new one.
“This is more solid from the top to the bottom,” Rogers said. “You got ownership — great ownership — that interacts with the players. The GM’s the same way. The coach is a head coach. He understands us. He played in this league. He’s been in the same team meetings that we’re in. He understands what it takes to get a player going, what’s too much for a player, how to push those right buttons. And it’s been working, because we got everybody in.”
That was not the way it was in Washington, Rogers said, nor is it to this day. During an interview Thursday, he repeatedly referred to “stuff going on” with the Redskins, the general day-to-day drama that defined the team for much of his tenure, the unsettled environment Shanahan is trying to eliminate.
“People say I wasn’t happy,” he said. “It’s just because I spoke out. But it was the truth. It was the truth. And I’m gone. So what is it now? It’s still stuff going on. I know the guys on the team, so many guys is ready to leave. So many guys.”
Rogers, though, is ready to stay in San Francisco. He said he has talked to the coaching staff about wanting to return, and they want him back, but he will leave contract talks to his agent, and they will wait until after the season. His importance to the 49ers’ success — an NFC-low 14.3 points allowed per game — has been acknowledged all year. Harbaugh called him a “get-him-down tackler.” Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Rogers’s versatility makes the defense more dangerous, especially because he essentially plays what looks like a linebacker spot in the 49ers’ nickel package.
“He’s kind of the guy that keeps it all together up front there,” Fangio said.
With that has come praise, from near and far. Rogers said numerous opposing coaches — “Coaches I’ve never even said a word to,” he said — have approached him during pregame warmups to congratulate him on a fine season. New Orleans’s Sean Payton was the latest, chatting in the hours before the 49ers dispatched the Saints from the playoffs last week.
“It’s so crazy when you’re in an organization, where other coaches and other players see how good you are, see the potential, and your own organization that you’ve been with for six years don’t do the right stuff to get that out of a player,” Rogers said. “I’ve had so many coaches saying: ‘You’ve had an incredible year. I know you’re glad to be out of Washington because there’s so much stuff going on.’ It was amazing, just the respect factor.”
Rogers looked around his locker room, where teammate after teammate conducted interviews before Sunday’s game. Win that one, and he’s in the Super Bowl. Lose it, and he goes to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29. He smiled again.
“I wanted this in Washington,” Rogers said. “I didn’t want to be bouncing around from team to team. It didn’t work out in Washington. I got another chance, and it’s working out.”