For Rogers, the Time to Play Is Now
With Harris Out, Rookie Cornerback Continues On-the-Job Training vs. Denver

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 8, 2005

Before Wednesday afternoon's practice, rookie Carlos Rogers sat down next to cornerbacks coach DeWayne Walker for a detailed individual film session, a ritual that will be repeated weekly this season. Rogers performed well Sunday in his first NFL start, replacing injured veteran Walt Harris, but was far from perfect.

With Harris missing practice again this week with a calf problem, Rogers, 24, is in line for another heavy workload this weekend against Denver, a team with a prolific offense on the ground and through the air. The Seattle Seahawks chose not to target Rogers extensively on Sunday at FedEx Field, but the Broncos may not be as forgiving, leaving the student and the coach much to digest in preparation.

"There's a lot of things most people don't see that show up on the tape," Walker said. "There's a lot of rookie mistakes, but he's going to keep learning and keep working. Every day he gets ridiculed, but, man, that's part of being a rookie. That's what it's all about. He's just got to keep working and getting acclimated to the NFL game. So, he's my little project. We went over about 15 plays from Seattle and talked about some things he could have done better. It's a work in progress for sure."

This coaching staff is known for bringing youngsters along slowly, but a rash of injuries to the secondary -- both in the preseason and regular season -- resulted in abundant playing time for Rogers, the ninth overall pick in April's draft. Rogers was voted the nation's top collegiate defensive player at Auburn and suffers no shortage of natural ability and confidence, but he needs time to read the game better, anticipate plays and refine his technique.

He did not get burned by the Seahawks, but they did throw to his side several times early. Once, he bit on a pump-and-go, but safety Matt Bowen provided cover and the ball was overthrown. Seattle runs several quick slants that can be difficult to prevent, and taking the wrong angle can result in a five-yard pass becoming a significant gain. Denver has similar capabilities.

"I'm striving to get better and be consistent," Rogers said. "A lot of the time my technique was not as on key as we thought it should be. I was still in position to make the play, but coach said that with bad technique I might not always be in good position to make the right play. I need to get that technique down first."

Rogers's natural instinct is to attack the football, and after feasting on college quarterbacks -- to the point that they no longer threw at him -- there was no reason not to be aggressive. But now he is the novice, and NFL quarterbacks will be toying with Rogers, fooling him into thinking he knows the route, only to place the ball elsewhere. Rogers concedes that Seattle "didn't go after me as much as I thought they would," and expects more attempts his way tomorrow. That will require patience and discipline.

"I've got to sit back and let plays come to me," Rogers said, "rather than thinking I've got to make a play. Because if I'm anxious to make then I might slip up and try to break on stuff too fast."

Stalwart Shawn Springs likely will battle Pro Bowl wide receiver Rod Smith much of the day, leaving Rogers with talented Ashley Lelie. Lelie has not figured prominently in the attack, but that could change. Denver provides a unique challenge given its proven running scheme and the bootlegging talents of quarterback Jake Plummer. It is often difficult to discern whether the team will run a stretch play on the ground or throw on a rollout until the last second, and that kind of deception can be cruel for a rookie corner.

"It's 'boot-o-rama,' " said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. "They've got every bootleg now that anybody, anywhere has ever run. So we've got our hands full."

Williams held back on the blitzing last week at least in part to protect his youthful secondary, and could do so again tomorrow. But no matter how much help Rogers is given from coaches or teammates, the reality is, as Walker puts it, "You can't hide him out there; he's gotta play now." Many have failed to meet that challenge, but a select few have thrived at this demanding position in their first NFL season. Rogers aims to be one of them.

"He's held up well," said Springs, who started 10 games as a rookie for Seattle in 1997 after being selected third overall. "When you're the ninth pick, you're not supposed to look like a rookie; you're supposed to look sharp, and that's what I expect out of him. He's a very mature young man, he's studied a lot of film, and I don't look at him as a rookie. When you're a top-10 pick, you're expected to come in and play."

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