By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Position battles are not determined in June during organized team activities -- with their non-contact drills and with the season opener still three months away -- so Washington Redskins safeties coach Steve Jackson resists assessment.
Jackson knows no conclusive evidence of the strong-safety competition between Reed Doughty and Chris Horton will result from these two weeks of practice, but the two players are undeniably fighting for one spot.
"Both of us are capable of going out there and starting," Horton said. "Who's it going to be?"
Said Jackson: "It's not much of a battle right now. We don't have pads on."
At this time two years ago, questioning the two safety positions seemed like a waste of time. Sean Taylor and LaRon Landry, both high draft picks, appeared ready to fortify the defensive backfield for a long time. But since Taylor's death from a gunshot wound in November 2007, the Redskins have turned to first Doughty, then Horton, at strong safety. Neither arrived in Washington with any adulation, although both have proved serviceable.
"I think we're very similar players," Doughty said. "We're both very intelligent players and we like to fill on the run and our coverage skills are getting better."
Jackson has used these sessions to work with them outside of the in-season pressures associated with game-planning. He has been pleased with the progress of Kareem Moore, a sixth-round pick in 2008 who started one game last season. Jackson also mentioned that rookie free agent Lendy Holmes has caught attention early. Holmes played safety, cornerback and wide receiver at Oklahoma.
"We've got a lot of young safeties," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "A lot of safeties trying to make this team. A lot of guys, like Reed [Doughty], we haven't played with in a while. We're just getting used to playing with everybody, bringing everybody together."
Landry, a mainstay at free safety, has skipped the OTAs, but his spot in the lineup is not in doubt. Jackson said he saw Landry a couple of weeks ago, but has not communicated with him recently.
"We're getting more with him not being here because it gives other guys a chance to get reps, to grow, to play with the [starters] and just to be out here," Jackson said. "I want him to do what's best for him. At this time of year, that's what he has to do."
The strong-safety spot remains a mystery.
"It's open," said Horton, a seventh-round draft choice in 2008. "I just see it as, coaches are going to make those decisions of who starts and who doesn't."
From all indications, Doughty has recovered from the back injury that ended his season last October. He has been the leader among the safeties during OTAs, working with the younger players now that his service time can properly merit the "veteran" label. Doughty said at this point, the re-acclimation process requires only continued repetitions.
"The way he moves is much better than probably the last two years," Jackson said. "He just has to go out there relaxed and get back to the flow of things, where he's just playing the game."
Horton became an opportunist in Doughty's absence. He started 10 games, recording 76 tackles and three interceptions. What took him minutes to process last year now takes him seconds. Instead of thinking about the defensive packages while on the field, Horton can devote his time to deciphering the offense's plans.
"He's a coach's dream," Jackson said. "You tell him to do something, and he gets it done. [If] he makes a mistake, he doesn't make the mistake again, which is more than I can say about the rest of the guys."
Jackson said the difference between the two safeties is in their personalities. Horton seldom departs from his calm demeanor; Doughty is more "frenetic, high energy."
But Jackson knows the position will be determined once the pads return, and the safeties can hit.
"The game's about making plays," Jackson said. "You don't make plays; you don't play. Any guy out there could round out the 11. But if one guy makes plays, the guy's going to be out there."
Staff writers Paul Tenorio and Mark Viera contributed to this report.