By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Long after practice ended one day last week at Redskins Park, cornerback Carlos Rogers continued to work.
He had been refining his coverage technique for some time, but Rogers was not finished. He reviewed additional videotape of the Cleveland Browns in advance of Sunday's game and finished the day in a tub of ice-cold water to help ease the strain on his leg muscles. The tub time was the toughest part, Rogers said.
"I hate being in a cold tub," he said. "But every day, I'm in a cold tub to get my legs back and be fresh out there. I wouldn't have done that in the past, I didn't think I needed it, but now I'm trying to do everything to take care of my body and be right."
Talented and headstrong, Rogers thought he had all the answers early in his career, regularly dismissing more experienced teammates who encouraged him to improve his study habits and conditioning. But after his 2007 season was cut short by torn right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, Rogers reevaluated his approach.
Now performing at the highest level of his career, Rogers and Washington's secondary have been integral to the success of the NFL's sixth-ranked defense. Coaches and teammates wondered whether Rogers would ever grow up, and it appears finally to have happened.
"The injury really humbled Carlos," defensive lineman Demetric Evans said. "It made him see that this game will pass you by, this game will go on without you, so the injury was a blessing in disguise. It got him more focused. He's focused on being one of the best corners in the NFL."
Rogers's extra work seemed to have helped in a 14-11 victory over the Browns. With cornerback Shawn Springs sidelined because of a calf injury, Rogers took the lead as Washington limited the Browns to 236 total yards. Quarterback Derek Anderson had his best performance of the season in Cleveland's previous game against the New York Giants, but he completed only 14 of 37 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown against Washington.
Rogers's tight coverage against wide receiver Braylon Edwards -- Anderson's favorite target -- contributed significantly to disrupting the timing of Cleveland's passing game. Edwards had four catches for 58 yards against the Redskins, with Rogers often impeding his route in press-man coverage and breaking up passes. Rogers was credited with three passes defended.
And then there was Rogers's fierce tackling. He had three unassisted tackles among four overall, not counting a jarring, textbook shot that separated wideout Joshua Cribbs from the ball in the third quarter, resulting in an incomplete pass. The hit briefly knocked Cribbs out of the game.
Rogers, who has one interception, leads Washington and ranks second in the league with 11 passes defended (Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson has 12). He is fourth on the team in overall and unassisted tackles with 29 and 25, respectively.
Defensive coordinator Greg Blache recently compared Rogers to a "good wine. His time has come. You just watch him. He's grown. It's just like, hey, he's ready to be sipped and savored. He can always get better, but he's got that poise and that confidence.
"He can line up on whoever that receiver is, we can assign him to it, and he'll take him, and he'll go out there. There's no nervousness in his play. He might get beat, but the guy's going to have to work to beat him. He's not going to beat himself."
Whether Rogers has played press-man coverage, off the line in man-to-man alignments or as part of zone schemes on his side of the field, few opponents consistently have beaten him this season. In what many teammates described as a three-week stretch among the best of any cornerback in the league, Rogers shut down Philadelphia Eagles standout rookie wideout DeSean Jackson, neutralized St. Louis Rams perennial Pro Bowl pick Torry Holt and thoroughly frustrated Edwards.
"I saw [Edwards] fussing to his quarterback or coaches early in the game," Rogers said. "He was upset and confused at first."
In a Week 3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Rogers intercepted a pass tipped high by nickel cornerback Leigh Torrence and returned the ball 42 yards early in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, quarterback Jason Campbell and wide receiver Santana Moss teamed on an 18-yard touchdown for the go-ahead score.
"And the thing about it, what's really grabbing people's attention, is that he's coming off that torn ACL and MCL," Evans said. "Playing the way he's playing, he should be a candidate for the Pro Bowl, and you've got to look at the circumstances. The way he played in the past, and people saying he might be a bust, to come out and play at a Pro Bowl level, after knee surgery, shows you how he really got focused."
On Oct. 28 last season, Rogers seriously injured his right knee in a 52-7 loss to the New England Patriots. Selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft, Rogers had been considered a disappointment to that point, in large part because he dropped many potential interceptions. And considering Rogers did not display a strong work ethic, some in the organization wondered how he would fare after reconstructive knee surgery.
But in difficult rehab work with team trainers in the offseason, Rogers pushed himself. Although the Redskins declined to announce a projected timetable for Rogers's comeback, they privately indicated he could be out until at least a month after the season began.
Rogers, though, set a goal of playing in the season opener Sept. 4. He came back Aug. 16 in the third preseason game against the New York Jets and started in the season-opening 16-7 loss to the Giants, finishing with five unassisted tackles and one pass defended.
"When he said he wanted to come back sooner than what the doctors were saying, I was like, 'Man, what is this guy thinking?' " free safety LaRon Landry said. "I didn't say anything to him about it because that's his own personal thing, and you don't want to come in between a guy's dream on what they want to do, but I was thinking it to myself.
"A lot of guys were just hoping he didn't mess up coming back so soon. And you know, even when he came back [to practice], he wasn't expected to play. So, yeah, what he's doing right now, man, it's something. Just his mind-set about the game, he's playing above and beyond what anyone probably would have thought. He had it in his mind what he wanted to do, and it seems like he's trying to go somewhere with it."
After reconstructive knee surgery, some athletes said it takes a full season or more to feel completely sound. Rogers had to work harder and smarter, he said.
"When you're a rookie, you got a little money, you want to go out, you want to do things like that," Rogers said. "Not saying there's nothing wrong with still going out, but for me, going out and doing stuff during the week, that's time I could be staying at home studying, getting in the cold tub after practice and doing things like that. Before, I would just take a shower, go to my meeting and leave. Now I'm doing everything I can to stay healthy and try to figure out how I can just get better."
Campbell and Rogers have been close since they were college teammates at Auburn. In the past, Campbell teased his friend about his carefree outlook, but now Rogers often beats Campbell to the tub.
"Once he decided he wanted to be an elite corner, a top corner in this league, he realized he had to study film, you've got to get your rest, you can't be out all times of the night each and every day," Campbell said. "And you can't just be complacent. You have to really put in the extra effort and do the things you need to do to get to the next level.
"Everyone at this level is good. That's the reason you're here. What's going to separate the great ones from the average ones is the time that you put in and the rest that you get away from the game. You have to make sure you're doing the proper things that you need to be doing, so that when Sunday comes you can give your best effort."
Washington (5-2) faces the winless Detroit Lions (0-6) on Sunday at Ford Field. Springs is not expected to play, so Rogers often could draw the difficult assignment of second-year wideout Calvin Johnson (6 feet 5, 239 pounds), who has a 21.2-yard average on 25 receptions. At the very least, Rogers figures to be well prepared, coaches and players said.
"When he goes into the game, Carlos has done his homework," Blache said. "He's a totally different personality in the meeting room and on the field. He's all business. Last year, he was still like a puppy out there, smiling and laughing. But when he walks into the meeting room, there's a coldness, almost like a hit man kind of thing: 'This is where I got to learn. This is what I want to do.' "
Staff writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.