By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The coverage skills are still there. The ability to backpedal at full speed, turn and run with receivers and make sharp cuts -- Washington Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers can do it all.
Rogers, who had reconstructive knee surgery in November, proved it to himself again the other day after practice at Redskins Park. He moved well while working with wide receiver Santana Moss as secondary coach Jerry Gray monitored the one-on-one session, and the best part, Rogers said, is his right knee cooperated.
"I don't even feel it. No pain at all," Rogers said. "I'm out here doing what I do just working and working each day and trying to get back. We got a good group [of cornerbacks], and I know they all [will] hold it down until I'm ready. That's where I'm trying to be."
After missing the second half of the 2007 season, Rogers is being brought back slowly. The Redskins have exercised caution with his rehabilitation program and are pleased with the results, though they have not given a timetable for his full participation.
Rogers plans to play when Washington kicks off the NFL's regular season schedule on Sept. 4 against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium, and he said he is confident about achieving his goal. When Rogers comes back, he will rejoin a unit that was among Washington's strengths during its late-season push to the playoffs and could be deeper this season because of an infusion of youth.
The former first-round draft pick is eager to regain his position in the cornerback rotation, but the Redskins want Rogers back only at full strength.
"They're doing a very smart thing with Carlos," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "They're not just throwing him out there in the midst of training camp, in the midst of all of this, and risking him re-injuring it. The thing about it is, Carlos is either [going to] be that hell of a plus for us, or the guy everybody says we're missing."
Rogers, who returned his only interception last season 61 yards for a touchdown, tore his right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in a 52-7 loss to the New England Patriots Oct. 28. He had surgery about a week later after the swelling in his knee subsided and then began the long recovery process.
In difficult rehab work with team trainers in the offseason, Rogers pushed himself, Redskins officials said, impressing with his determination. Although Rogers, beginning his fourth season, has made good progress after such a serious knee injury, the Redskins are reluctant to expose him to contact or have him put too much pressure on the knee at this stage. He has not been cleared to take part in 11-on-11 drills and has been ruled out of Sunday's Hall of Fame preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts in Canton, Ohio.
Limited to unit drills and individual work, Rogers has focused on honing his coverage technique. He has worked individually against wide receivers, usually Moss and Antwaan Randle El, after several practices.
After reconstructive knee surgery, many athletes slowly regain their form -- speed, power and agility -- with some saying it takes a full season or more to feel completely sound again. Unsure about his physical tools, Rogers has "got to be smarter," he said. "Learning my break points [in coverage], learning everything like the angles of the receivers, that's what's important for me now.
"The whole rehab process, it's a process that they're taking me on slowly. They're slowly getting me into it, instead of doing everything and having my leg swell up on me. But I've got to use this time to help myself. I don't have [any] effects from what they're doing, so that's good."
During his career as a Pro Bowl defensive back, Gray recovered from major knee surgery and remained a productive player. Gray has traveled the path Rogers is on now.
"The good thing is that I've been in his position. I got a chance to come back, and I understand what happens to guys," Gray said. "Mentally, their bodies want to do some stuff that it's not used to doing. You've got to overcome this injury, and then when you overcome it, you're going to become a lot better player. Now, you're working a whole lot smarter technique-wise. You understand, you say to yourself, 'I've got to bear down.' You know that there are things you actually have to go through.
" 'I may not have that 4.3 speed. Now I've got 4.4, 4.5 speed.' Now your technique had better get real important to you. Those are things he's actually going through right now."
With Rogers out, Smoot and Shawn Springs are the starting corners. The trio shared the top two spots in the first half of last season, and Smoot and Springs helped hold together the secondary after Rogers's injury and the death of Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor in November.
Springs's father, Ron, went into a coma in October after what the family believed would be routine surgery to remove a cyst at a Dallas hospital. He has been taken off a ventilator and can breathe on his own but has not regained consciousness. Smoot, in the first season of his second stint with the Redskins, was inactive for three games because of recurring hamstring problems.
Despite everything that befell the secondary last season, the Redskins finished tied for third in the league with 6.0 yards allowed per pass attempt. In 2006, Washington was last in that category at 6.91 yards.
Relying on Smoot and Springs to succeed in press-man coverage, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who now directs the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense, devised creative game plans that provided the foundation for the four-game winning streak that ended the regular season.
"Oh, man, Gregg would leave me and Shawn out there with no help in that hard-knock zero coverage" with no safety support, Smoot said. "But we excelled at it. Gregg asked us to do it, and we got the job done."
New defensive coordinator Greg Blache, Washington's defensive line coach the last four seasons, said he intends to use press coverage, and Smoot and Springs have lined up close to wide receivers in the early stages of camp, "but I don't know if he's going to leave us out there in zero as much," Springs said. "I mean, [Williams] will put pressure on the corners, and I haven't seen Greg in a game situation yet, but I think we'll be fine whatever he wants to do. This is the first year we've got some very good young talent behind us."
In addition to fourth-year cornerback Leigh Torrence, who contributed as a nickel back down the stretch in 2007, the Redskins are high on rookie cornerback Justin Tryon, a fourth-round draft pick out of Arizona State.
"Hopefully, with all the guys we have, it will work out and we can just pick up where we left off last year," Smoot said.
Rogers aims to help from the start.
"I've been shooting for the first game" since the day he was injured, Rogers said, "and I'm still shooting for the first game."