Reed Doughty has traveled this road before. Many times, actually. And because he knows all the twists and turns well, he knows what to do. The Washington Redskins again have made efforts to upgrade their safety position, adding pieces that at first blush would seem to nudge Doughty out of playing time and possibly a job.
At 6 feet 1 and 206 pounds with a 40-yard dash time of 4.65 seconds, Doughty is neither large nor fast for his position. Former coach Joe Gibbs selected him in the sixth round in the 2006 draft primarily to improve the team’s depth; he was a guy to use on special teams and to help out here and there on defense.
But somehow Doughty always finds himself thrust into a larger role.
This year, the competition features Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo, a pair of athletic ballhawks who ranked among college football’s leaders in interceptions the past two seasons. The Redskins also hope 2013 brings the healthy return of two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather, who missed most of last season because of knee injuries.
But Doughty remains undaunted. His goal: Make it impossible again for the Redskins’ decision makers to leave him off the 53-man roster.
“Obviously, there’s young guys coming in that are very talented,” Doughty said. “But the one thing I’ve really tried to do is not focus on them because the truth is, if they come in and play lights-out and do what they’re supposed to do, then they’re going to play ahead of me. I know that. But at the same time, I’m going to make them earn it. I’m going to come out here and work on my craft the best that I can and be the most dependable player that I can possibly be and make plays.”
Safety has long represented a revolving door for the Redskins. Not since Sean Taylor and Ryan Clark in 2005 has the team had stability at that spot.
Adam Archuleta failed miserably as an upgrade over Clark in 2006. In 2007, Washington drafted LaRon Landry, expecting he and Taylor to give it a formidable tandem. But Taylor got hurt in Week 10 and was murdered two weeks later. Doughty filled in as starter the rest of the year.
Landry, Kareem Moore, Chris Horton and Oshiomogho Atogwe saw their short-lived Redskins tenures derailed by injuries, and Doughty always got the call in a pinch.
Nothing changed last season. Meriweather (a free agent addition) and rookie Jordan Bernstine missed nearly the entire season with knee injuries. Free agent Tanard Jackson was suspended for failed drug tests and never took the field. Another pickup, Madieu Williams, struggled. Free agent Jordan Pugh and 2011 draft pick DeJon Gomes were situational players.
Doughty, who has lined up alongside 23 fellow safeties since he arrived in Washington from Division I-AA Northern Colorado, wound up starting another 10 games and recording 69 tackles and an interception in 2012.
“Well, every year Reed starts for us, so you can’t discount Reed,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said of Doughty, who in the past four seasons has averaged 9.25 starts and 85.25 tackles. “I think Reed brings something to a football team. One, he’s a really good special teams player. He’s really intelligent. He understands the game. He studies the game. He’s really good around the box. He makes a lot of tackles. He’s good in the run game. I think everybody has some form of deficiency in the NFL. What Reed brings to your football team is invaluable.”
Said wide receiver Santana Moss, the only player who has been on the team longer than Doughty: “There’s no question he’s here for a reason. Everyone watches football and looks at the glamorous safeties, like the Ed Reeds, who get all the picks and those types of safeties, and they don’t know that some safeties are not called to do that. Some safeties are called upon to be run-stoppers and be guys that hold it down, to be a great defender or be one of those key guys on special teams.”
Doughty has remained a constant on special teams, making key stops on kickoff and punt coverage.
“He should not be as good as he is on special teams, but he’s got the desire, he’s got the work ethic and he will find a way to make plays,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “Same thing on defense. When his opportunity came last year to play the safety position, he played at a very high level, especially when you go back at the end of the season and you really study him.” Doughty had 12 tackles — seven solo — and two sacks in Washington’s playoff loss to Seattle.
Teammates and coaches say the other key to Doughty’s longevity is his intelligence, which he has developed through study habits.
“He’s a pain in my butt,” secondary coach Raheem Morris said. “He’s going to get everything out of me, every question. He doesn’t allow me to slip. If I miss a tip sheet, he’ll certainly let me know and make me go home during the weekends and do it. But he challenges me as much as I challenge those guys, and he’s a phenomenal guy to be around. He’s a true vet.”
Doughty credits his father for the heart and work ethic. A teacher, middle school football and basketball coach for 36 years in northern Colorado, Marlon Doughty coached Reed and his two older brothers in football and basketball, and all three football teams went undefeated during their middle-school careers. Doughty said: “We were not the talented team. We were disciplined.”
Said his father: “Our teams worked very hard at being the best they could be. Also, all of our three boys learned in our family that hard work is a key to success.”
Doughty has persevered in the NFL while dealing with hearing loss that requires him to wear hearing aids and the premature birth of his son, Micah, who had chronic kidney failure and required a kidney transplant when he was 19 months old. Micah will turn 6 in late August. Doughty also suffered nerve damage in his back that required surgery in 2008.
When the Redskins report for training camp Thursday, they expect to have a healthy Meriweather in addition to Thomas, Rambo, Doughty, Gomes and Pugh competing for spots in the defensive backfield. Doughty admits the uncertainty as he enters the final year of his contract is stressful.
But Doughty hopes his knowledge and dependability give him an edge. He’ll approach this training camp as he has the previous seven, hoping for the same outcome.
“I never look at the roster saying I’m a lock. Never,” he said. “I think, just come into each training camp and offseason knowing I really have to work and prove that I really belong there. I feel like that’s kind of been my motto and just keep hanging on. A lot of older guys coast a little bit, and that’s when these young guys that are hungry come up and get you.”