By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Washington Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers stood on the sideline Wednesday morning at Redskins Park, his arms crossed over his chest, watching the defensive backs work through one-on-one drills against wide receivers.
Rogers's left calf was wrapped with ice. It's treatment for a muscle strain that has kept him out of several practices early in training camp and also has delayed the start to the most important season of the 2005 first-round pick's career.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Rogers goes into the season with a mountain of expectations -- both to solidify himself as a bona fide starter opposite DeAngelo Hall and to earn a new contract approaching the money the Redskins paid to re-sign his secondary mate this offseason.
He must do so coming off an up-and-down 2008 in which he initially enjoyed what appeared to be a career season only to see his role diminish late in the year. Rogers also must do so as one of the senior members of a defensive backfield expected to produce more game-changing plays -- an area in which he has faltered.
The importance of the upcoming season is not lost on Rogers, who called it, simply, "a big year." But entering his fifth season in Washington, Rogers said he can't focus too much on the idea of it being a contract year.
"Stay healthy and play 16 games at a consistency and a rate that I started last year," Rogers said of his goals entering the season. "Contracts and things like that is going to happen. I can make all that happen by playing well. So the main thing is playing healthy."
Last season had initially appeared to be the year in which Rogers finally was maturing into a true No. 1 cornerback. With veteran Shawn Springs frequently sidelined with a calf injury, Rogers had proven to be a top cover corner in the early part of the season, earning the praise of coaches and teammates.
His success in the first half of the year was even more impressive given that many had predicted Rogers would begin the year on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
Rogers's 2007 season had ended in Week 7 when he tore both his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in a 52-7 loss to New England. And entering last season, the team debated whether Rogers should open the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, with some believing he would spend the better part of the first half of the season working back from the injury.
Instead, Rogers was cleared to play during training camp. By the start of the regular season, he was drawing the assignment of shutting down top wide receivers and doing so with great success, which was tempered by his struggle to come up with big-play results. He often dropped sure interceptions and, by Week 14, he was replaced in the starting lineup by Springs and Hall, whom the Redskins had signed midway through the year.
Cornerback Fred Smoot, now the most experienced member of the secondary, said he thought Rogers faded after getting back so quickly from reconstructive knee surgery. But the disappointment of the benching still lingers with Rogers.
"It's frustrating with the stuff that happened, but like I said that's last year, and I've got to move on," Rogers said. "I don't want to dwell on that because it only just makes me mad, and I'm like, 'Damn why'd that happen.' But I want to finish this year, and start this year, the way I started the first eight games last year."
This year, Rogers is again expected to be the no-questions-asked starter.
Springs is gone now; he was released in the offseason and eventually signed with the Patriots. Hall returned after receiving a six-year contract worth up to $55 million and is considered to be the team's top cornerback, while Rogers must fight to show he was worthy of the ninth overall pick in 2005.
He said he's no longer worried about the dropped interceptions: "It's just concentration, I drop them, I drop them," Rogers said. "I try not to dwell on the negative stuff. If I keep doing that, that'll just keep pounding me and pounding me and putting me down. My focus is if I drop one, I'm going to catch the next one."
Though he said he isn't focusing on it being a contract year -- "Everybody is looking at the contract year, I'm looking at it as just another year trying to get better and trying to be an established," Rogers said -- there are no doubts the dollar figures are swirling in his head.
But for now, Rogers is watching from the sideline, cautiously approaching the calf strain for fear it may linger for weeks the same way a similar injury did for Springs last year. Until he is healthy, the opportunity to prove his worth will remain in a holding pattern.
But with so much at stake, Redskins Coach Jim Zorn emphasized how important it was for Rogers to be back on the field.
"It's a big year for him and being injured is very difficult because again it takes away the opportunity and gives another guy, to step in, an opportunity as well," Zorn said. "Justin Tryon, he's taken advantage of it. Carlos Rogers, he has to be well or it just continues, he'll continue to digress. When his leg feels good he'll be out there to show what he can do. It's hard. I fully expect him to be there, I fully expect him to have a great season. He needs to."