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Redskins Safety Chris Horton Develops Into Starting Role

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The Washington Post's Jason Reid shares his thoughts on the first week at Redskins training camp. Video by Comcast SportsNet

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By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Safeties coach Steve Jackson considers the Washington Redskins defensive backs to be ardent students of the game, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that during their spare time, some players have started studying film of the New York Giants, their Week 1 opponent.

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"It's what I love about these guys. When the season -- it's over -- they don't just shut it off. It's part of them," Jackson said. "They would like nothing more than to put that Riddell on every day of the year, all day long. Walk around, drive their car to and from work, do it all with that helmet on."

But what has Jackson and other coaches especially excited is the development of their soft-spoken second-year strong safety. The continuing education of Chris Horton, though, calls for a new classroom this training camp.

As a seventh-round draft pick in 2008 -- only three players out of 252 draft picks were selected lower -- Horton entered camp a year ago relatively unnoticed. During his unexpectedly productive rookie season, Horton was a bookworm. During team meetings, he'd scribble notes, then go back to his room and stay up late studying everything.

"We'd meet on certain defenses, and I'd have three pages of notes on one defense," Horton said. "Coach would walk by and say: 'Man, you need to stop writing that whole time. You wrote way too much. If you take all that to the field, the game will move too fast.' "

In Year 2 with increased expectations, he's still taking note of the details, but he's doing more of his learning on the practice field than in the meeting room.

It's an important change for the Redskins, who are counting on Horton and the secondary to contribute more high-impact, game-changing plays this season. As strong as the defensive unit seemed at times -- only six teams allowed fewer passing yards -- it tallied only 18 takeaways. Only two teams in the league had fewer.

Addressing this shortcoming will be a major goal for the new season, and a player such as Horton, who often finds himself near the ball, has been preparing all offseason so when he's on the field, his reactions are more instinctual.

"I used to be all over the place. I'd just be running around like I had no clue. I knew what I was doing, but I wasn't really slowing the game down. I was thinking too much," said Horton, who led the Redskins last year with three interceptions. "Now I go to meeting rooms, try to focus on a couple of points and stick with that. So when you get out there, you can see the game better. I can see it all happening now and just kind of know what to do."

Aiding Horton in that preparation is the same man who helped prepare him for the starting lineup last season -- Reed Doughty, the man whose job Horton took in Week 2 last year. Doughty went down with the flu, and Horton came up with the starting job.

A year later, when it comes to football, the two are perfect study partners. They talk technique, formations and coverages year-round.

"We have very similar personalities," Doughty said. "We're very meticulous, we're very analytical, we want to know how the defense works -- not just what our job is. So we have the same mind-set, and we get along great."


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