By Rick Maese
Thursday, November 12, 2009
A season ago, safety Chris Horton was one of the Washington Redskins' biggest surprises, making the leap from the seventh round of the NFL draft to the starting lineup. This year, he's just the latest part of a discomforting trend -- the team's fourth player to be placed on the season-ending injured-reserve list.
As the Redskins prepare for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos, Coach Jim Zorn didn't have much good news as he listed the team's bruised and battered. Horton underwent surgery to repair ligament damage in his toe Wednesday in Charlotte; running back Clinton Portis missed practice and is "very, very doubtful" to play against Denver; and tight end Chris Cooley will wear a protective boot for at least two more weeks.
For Horton, "obviously it's a big disappointment," said his friend and fellow safety, Reed Doughty. "Especially when something like that happens, you think, 'Oh, it might be one or two weeks,' but then it's like, 'Okay, I'm done.' It's kind of a realization. It's hard to take there for a little bit. But Chris is young. He'll make a full recovery."
The slew of injuries has forced some lineup changes. Zorn said Doughty will replace Horton as the starting strong safety. Doughty had started two games this season and split time with Horton throughout the season.
While Kareem Moore will move up the depth chart, Zorn said that free safety LaRon Landry might see a bit of action at Horton's former spot and cornerback Fred Smoot might also see continued action at safety. Coaches have praised Doughty, saying he is playing better than a season ago before he went on injured reserve, but Zorn said it will be difficult to replace Horton.
"It's a major setback because we count on him so much to do so many things, not only as our strong safety but then in special teams as well," Zorn said. "He'll be a big loss. It holds us back a little bit on the defensive side of the football. But that's what we have before us and we'll deal with that."
Landry has been a target of frustrated fans, who have roundly criticized his performance, which included a few notable missed tackles, this week on sports-talk radio and Internet message boards. With Horton out, Zorn was asked whether the team planned to move Landry from free safety to strong, at which he played well as a rookie, on a full-time basis.
"That's something that we're going to do a little bit, but he's pretty wicked where he's sitting right now and he's very comfortable where he's at," Zorn said. "I don't think there's going to be a lot of change."
Landry has grown tired of answering questions about his position. "As of right now, in certain situations, I do play strong safety," Landry said. "So I don't know what the big argument about whether I should move to strong safety predominantly instead of free. As of right now, in certain packages, I do play strong safety. It doesn't matter to me. Whatever I need to do to get a 'W.' "
The secondary will miss Horton, Landry said, but he feels the Redskins have the depth to absorb the loss. "We've got great depth in the safety position," he said. "Kareem steps up. Reed Doughty does a great job and then we've got Lendy [Holmes, who's on the practice squad] right behind him. We'll be fine. He'll be missed, but we'll be fine."
The team used Horton's roster spot to re-sign running back Quinton Ganther. With Portis expected to miss his first game of the year, Ladell Betts will get the start and both Rock Cartwright and Ganther will also likely play.
Portis met with Zorn Wednesday morning and said Portis didn't seem any closer to returning to the field. "We're not going to mess around with any concussion," Zorn said.
The biggest question for the offense will again be the team's ever-changing offensive line. Tackle Mike Williams is wearing a protective boot and will miss at least two games, recovering from ligament damage in his ankle. That means that Levi Jones, signed last month, will get his first start since November 2008. He'll be at left tackle and Stephon Heyer will slide to the right side, where he began the season.
With the Redskins struggling, a hungry Broncos squad coming to town and coaches fielding their fifth combination of linemen this season, quarterback Jason Campbell says Jones is "stepping right in the midst of a storm. We're going to do everything we can to encourage him, everything we can to push him," Campbell said, "even if I have to buy him a couple of meals -- just make sure that he can line up and play football."
Although he has had less than a month to learn the system, Jones, a former first-round pick, said he was taught the same techniques at Arizona State that Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel preaches. "It's like going back to where I was in college and doing the things that got me in the NFL in the first place," Jones said.
Despite starting the year unemployed -- he was released by Cincinnati in the spring -- Jones said he isn't worried about the tall task in front of him: He'll find himself battling Denver linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who is tied for the league lead with 10 1/2 sacks.
"I've been a left tackle in this league for eight years now," Jones said. "It's been that way, going against good pass rushers the entire time. I've seen a good fill of my [Dwight] Freeneys, [Terrell] Suggs, [James] Harrisons. Dumervil's a good outside linebacker now -- I've played him before, so I know what he brings. It's definitely going to be a good match."