By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2006
To Carlos Rogers, what has kept this from being his breakthrough Pro Bowl season are a half-dozen or so dropped interceptions. Rogers, in his second year at cornerback with the Washington Redskins, figures that, had he managed to hold onto the football, the team would have won more than just four games, he would be among the NFL leaders in interceptions and he might be considered one of the better young defensive backs in the league.
Whether Rogers's theory is valid may be subject to debate, but the reality is that he has failed to come close to the expectations that go with being the ninth pick in the NFL draft. Punishment for failing at cornerback is usually swift in the NFL and comes in the form of a wide receiver sprinting down the field. In a season in which Washington's defense has collapsed, Rogers has often been on the wrong end of those plays, dating from the first game in September.
"If I even just picked up the balls thrown to me, I think it would be a Pro Bowl season," Rogers, 25, said. "So I think I'm getting there. I've got games and quarters and things when I've played to where people know -- and I'm not worried about what people think -- but to where I know I should be playing at, for instance, the Carolina game. I've got to continue to have games like that every year and week in and week out and completing my interceptions. Then I can be where I want to be."
Rogers does not have an interception -- the entire team has only five -- despite having balls repeatedly thrown his way and being tested weekly by opponents. He falls for pump fakes and stop-and-go moves that sometimes result in huge gains such as the 60-yard completion to Philadelphia wide receiver Reggie Brown on Sunday in the Redskins' 21-19 loss to the Eagles. With the safeties playing poorly, too, there is usually a lack of support on such breakdowns. Rogers added that a more sustained pass rush from the defensive line would make the jobs of the defensive backs easier. "It all starts up front," he said.
Rogers will face another test this weekend in New Orleans, against the NFL's top-ranked passing offense, averaging 303.5 yards per game.
No teammate or coach would deny Rogers's talent and ability. He plays with the physical edge that the coaches demand, helping to stop the run and tackling bigger players. But his play his been suspect -- particularly in the first half of the season when top cornerback Shawn Springs was injured -- and he tends to repeat his mistakes.
"Carlos has gotten the opportunity to make his plays and as a top 10 pick people expect you to make those plays and hold you to a high standard," Springs said. "And he has all the talent in the world and I think he'll be fine, but when the opportunity comes, you've got to make those plays. So I think, and I hope, he understands that and is coming around because the corner spot is tough. Every corner has to find his way and I talk to him, but you've kind of got to let them find their way, too. We have different personalities in some ways, and I was a little more aggressive. I couldn't wait to talk to guys and find out, 'How the hell can I do this as fast as possible?' "
The Redskins have plenty of experience with Springs, the third overall pick in 1997, and safety Troy Vincent, a perennial Pro Bowler as a corner. Cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray had a distinguished career at that position as well, and all do what they can to pass along pointers. Much like second-year quarterback Jason Campbell, his close friend and teammate at Auburn, Rogers is expected to make football a daily part of his spring and summer routine.
"A lot of time guys don't understand how important the offseason training camp is in order to build up the technique that you're going to use during the season," Gray said. "And it'll sink in for him that, 'Hey I've got to put time in and the more time I put in, the better I'm going to be.' "
Vincent, 35, often is one of the last defensive players to leave the field after practice. He works with other veterans on small corrections -- recently Vincent and eight-year veteran Kenny Wright were doing just that with the rest of the team already inside -- and Vincent would like to spend similar one-on-one time with Rogers.
"There's a lot I would love to talk to him about," Vincent said, "and obviously I've shared some thoughts with him from time to time. But when the offseason comes -- because there's a lot of people in his ear right now -- I'm hoping we'll get a chance to talk and spend some time together and work on some fundamentals of being a corner."
Washington's secondary has been ineffective, and there could be changes. Springs is coming off another major injury and, with his salary cap figure around $7 million next season, restructuring his contract may be required. The Redskins will definitely need a new nickel corner with Wright and Mike Rumph not panning out, and many in the NFL expect them to pursue Buffalo cornerback Nate Clements, considered the best free-agent defensive back available.
No matter the scenario, expecting Rogers to perform like a No. 1 cornerback next season seems like a tall order right now. Taking the next step forward appears to be up to him.
"I think he's going up and down and the more consistent he can become the better he can be," Gray said. "It's something he's got to fight. Being in this position is tough. It's like being a second-year tackle in the league. So in his defense, he's a young guy and he has to battle all those things and understand, 'Okay, why did I get beat? Why didn't I get beat and why did I make that play?' And then don't get beat with the same thing again. When he starts doing that, and they start seeing that, then he'll know he's improving, and that's the position he's got to put himself in."