By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 26, 2008
During the Washington Redskins' first offseason workout in 2006, safeties coach Steve Jackson noticed something strange about rookie safety Reed Doughty. It seemed Doughty could not follow the simplest instructions, and Jackson often had to repeat himself during unit drills.
Although it is not unusual for rookies to struggle as they adjust to the NFL, Jackson said, Doughty always appeared lost. And the Redskins drafted Doughty, a sixth-round pick, in part because of the high football IQ he exhibited in college.
"It just didn't make sense," Jackson said. "I kept hearing about how bright he is, but he would keep making the same mistakes over and over. You'd look at it keep happening and you'd say, 'This guy? He must not be too bright.' But that wasn't it."
One day while closely observing Doughty in a meeting, Jackson noticed Doughty was watching his mouth move as if he were lip-reading. Jackson figured Doughty must have had trouble hearing, and a hearing test revealed Doughty had moderate to severe hearing loss. The Redskins made adjustments to help Doughty, and he has become a key contributor on defense and special teams.
At the request of his wife, Katie, Doughty recently began using hearing aids in both ears. He does not use them on the field for fear of damaging the devices, but they have helped him in team meetings and in his personal life. After finishing the 2007 season as a starter, Doughty is competing with former Oakland safety Stuart Schweigert to play alongside second-year standout LaRon Landry.
Doughty is confident about his performance in training camp and pleased his young son, Micah, is in good health after having a kidney transplant in March. Doughty has overcome many obstacles during his brief pro career, and the hearing aids are but the latest wrinkle.
"It's not that I can't hear at all, I'm hearing impaired," Doughty said. "But this was the first year that I'd talk to my wife and I'd have to say, 'What was that, sweetie? What did you say?' It was time to do something."
Doughty, who first had hearing loss diagnosed as a child, said he developed skills to help him communicate with coaches and teammates during his career as a three-time academic all-American at Northern Colorado, a division I-AA program. In addition to lip-reading, Doughty would memorize the hand signals used by the defensive line and linebackers as well as the secondary.
When Doughty arrived at Redskins Park, he had to start all over again. "It kind of became a running joke for a little while," said safety Vernon Fox, who also joined the Redskins in 2006. "We knew that if you were not sitting right next to him, he wasn't going to hear exactly what you said to him. We all kind of knew, it became obvious, he had a hearing deficiency."
Said secondary coach Jerry Gray, "We would call his name, and he'd never respond."
The Redskins were unaware of Doughty's hearing loss when they drafted him. Jackson initially sensed a problem because "Reed was all over the place," Jackson said. "You could see he had the ability, but he would have to ask the same things over and over again. Ever since we got him checked out, everybody makes a concerted effort to make sure that when they talk to him he can see your lips moving."
Said Coach Jim Zorn: "I'm actually going to have a conversation with him about this. I'm intrigued by it."
Doughty's father is severely hearing impaired and also wears two hearing aids, he said. "I can hardly talk to him on the phone," Doughty said. "I love him, but it makes it hard when he has his hearing aids out. You have to yell in his ear."
Katie Doughty can relate. After watching her husband struggle for years with hearing loss, she strongly encouraged him to get hearing aids after last season. The prodding worked.
"You've got to take a little bit off your pride," he said. "Do I want to be able to hear my son, hear him cry upstairs, or do I want to look cool?"
Doughty has reached heights few would have expected from the 173rd overall selection in the 2006 draft. And he did it while coping with the chronic kidney failure of Micah, who was born nearly six weeks prematurely.
In May, Doughty was excused from the Redskins' final practice of minicamp because Micah, now 23 months, had a high temperature. Micah is doing well now, Doughty said, and his kidney seems to be functioning as it should.
"As far as we know, his kidney is working very well," Doughty said. "He's just a happy little boy. He's just having fun, and it's great to see."
Doughty moved into the starting lineup in Week 11 last season against Dallas in place of Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor, who was sidelined because of a sprained knee, and remained there after Taylor was killed during a bungled break-in at his home in November.
With Landry expected to play free safety this season, Doughty and Schweigert are competing to start at the other slot.
"I feel like I'm playing really solid," Doughty said. "I've had a few mistakes, here and there, but overall my coverage has been pretty good. The coaches will make [the decision on who starts]. All I can do is go out in the preseason games and try to be ready to be the starter at strong safety."
With all the challenges Doughty has overcome, he knows what he has to do, Jackson said.
"Somebody has got to beat him out," Jackson said. "He's earned it, he's done everything we've asked him to do, so someone has to come in and take it from him. Reed is not the type of guy to let someone take it from him."