By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The e-mail from JoHanna Carlton had gone unanswered in Darrell Green's inbox for the entire 2008 season, a query for the Washington Redskins legend to mentor her son left waiting for a reply.
When Green remembered the note from Carlton this March, however, he quickly tracked her down to apologize for the delayed response and immediately got in touch with her son: Redskins cornerback Justin Tryon.
For the 2008 fourth-round draft pick who was coming off a disappointing rookie campaign, hearing a voice mail from the Hall of Fame cornerback demanded a quick reply.
But first, Tryon called his mom.
"She said, 'Just thank the Lord,' " Tryon recalled. "She said, 'I never told you this, but right after the Hall of Fame [preseason] game I e-mailed him.' And I was like, 'Mom, c'mon why you got to do that?' But it worked out for the best."
Tryon spent six weeks this offseason training with Green in Orlando and Virginia, working on everything from technique, to speed work, to the mental aspects of the game. And, he said, soaking in any advice he could get from Green.
Now, as Tryon enters his second year with the Redskins, the cornerback who got off to a subpar start with the organization has earned praise for the progress he has shown during the first few weeks of training camp -- something that comes as no surprise to the man who took the 25-year-old under his wing this offseason.
"I'm gonna say that Justin Tryon, if he's given the chance, he's a starter in 2009, 2010 or whenever the opportunity comes," said Green, who said Tryon was like a son to him. "He is definitely qualified to be a starter in the National Football League. I'm putting my reputation on that after being with him for six weeks, seeing what I've seen from him. Hopefully he'll have his chance and be a Redskin for a long time."
Tryon's professional football career had not yet officially started when he made his first misstep: spouting off to reporters in a conference call after being drafted that he was going to unseat one of the Redskins' starting corners.
The declaration struck the wrong chord with the team's veterans, who felt the rookie had stepped out of line. But in the year-plus since that initial interview, Tryon said he's learned several lessons -- including the one about talking with your play on the field.
"I was caught up in the moment of just being drafted, you see your name across the screen, you're just ecstatic, but you learn a lot from that, you learn to step back," Tryon said. "What I learned from Darrell Green also was all that smack talking, all the jibber jabber, hey you prove yourself on the field."
After the Redskins' morning practice on Monday in Ashburn, Tryon showed no signs of being the overconfident rookie who made those foot-in-the-mouth comments.
Instead, he appeared humble and, after a rough rookie year, acknowledged the battle he faces to get onto the field in a secondary that features starters Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall, both first-round draft picks, as well as Fred Smoot and 2009 third-round pick Kevin Barnes.
Tryon said he knew he had to make an impact on special teams, where he said he enjoyed the "gutty" mentality needed to be a gunner or jammer. And he spoke mostly about the work he put in this offseason and his increased comfort with the professional game.
"I hit the film room right after the season, and I got all my film, and I reviewed over it so I could see what I was doing wrong or what I was doing right," Tryon said. "After that I got out on the field, and I just worked a lot with a few guys. So I got better like that."
After getting the call from Green in March, Tryon said he took the next flight to Orlando, where Green runs a program called Darrell Green's E-Class Strategic Training. The program, Green said, focuses on what he calls "TTA," or talent, technique and attitude -- an all-encompassing camp meant to enhance both on- and off-field attributes.
Tryon did three two-week sessions with Green, and did enough in that time to earn Green's stamp of approval. And through the first two weeks of training camp, Tryon also has earned the praise of teammates and coaches for his improved play.
His play has been a stark departure from last season, when Tryon, who is listed at 5 feet 9, 183 pounds, seemed simply overwhelmed in coverage. Tryon now appears more comfortable in the defensive scheme and in understanding the intricacies of NFL offenses.
"Tryon has done a tremendous job," cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray said. "Am I afraid to go play him? No. When a guy shows me he's going to work hard in the offseason, he's going to deserve chances to go out there and play."
But while he has shown drastic improvement in camp, Tryon shook off questions about how he's impressed coaches and said he has a constant reminder every day not to let down, no matter what people are saying.
"Each and every day I'm out here and I go in the locker room and I see that Hall of Fame picture [of Green] up there and I say, 'Hey, let's go another day. Hey man, let's get it,' " Tryon said. "He talked about mental toughness. And every time I see that Hall of Fame picture it's like I have to answer to him because we put in so much work this offseason. I'd love to see it pay off."
Staff writers Dan Steinberg and Jason Reid contributed to this report.