By Rick Maese and Jason Reid
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Since his rookie season in 2005, Carlos Rogers has started all but two of the 47 games in which he has played. So as the Washington Redskins began installing their game plan for the Dallas Cowboys, it's probably no surprise that Rogers prepared as he always has -- to be the starter, even though he has received no such assurance.
"I don't expect to be on the bench," the fifth-year cornerback said.
After practice on Wednesday, coaches said they haven't decided who will start at right cornerback in Dallas, though they were pleased with the way Rogers responded to being benched in Sunday's game against Denver.
Rogers practiced with the starters Wednesday, but Fred Smoot, Justin Tryon and Lendy Holmes, who was signed off the practice squad last weekend, took repetitions with the first team, as well. Redskins coaches were pleased with Rogers's effort and attitude at practice. Coach Jim Zorn said Rogers "responded like a real professional."
"He didn't skip a beat. He wasn't pouting at all," Zorn said.
Secondary coach Jerry Gray said even if Rogers doesn't start against the Cowboys, he should see playing time.
"If you're any type of fighter, you're going to respond and fight," Gray said. "And I think that's what he's going to do. We'll see on Sunday. The guy has too much talent, too much athletic ability, and I think, too much fight to not be on the football field."
Rogers's continued struggles highlight the team's recent secondary woes. Statistically, the Redskins have the league's top-ranked pass defense. They're allowing only 162.7 passing yards per game and opponents' 148 completions against the Redskins is also a league best.
But those numbers are slightly skewed. As the Redskins have consistently fallen behind early week to week, opponents have turned to the ground game more than the passing attack. Washington foes have attempted only 252 passes in nine games, which is third fewest in the league.
FootballOutsiders.com seeks to more accurately gauge defenses with DVOA -- defense-adjusted value over average -- which takes into consideration a team's strength of schedule and compares each play to the league average based on situation. Based on each team's DVOA, the Redskins have the league's 18th-ranked defense.
The team's problems have been hard to miss in recent weeks. In each of the past three games, Washington has allowed an opponent to score two touchdowns on plays of 30 or more yards. Two of those six scores came against Rogers.
Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson beat Rogers on a double-move for a 57-yard touchdown in Washington's Week 7 loss to the Eagles. And then last Sunday, on Denver's first possession, wide receiver Brandon Marshall burned Rogers with another double-move, this time for a 40-yard score.
Redskins coaches instantly benched Rogers for the remainder of the game in favor of Smoot. Gray said Wednesday that he had little choice; he thought he sensed a trend.
"So I've got to protect this guy," said Gray, a former All-Pro cornerback. "Because again, sometimes as a corner, you can lose confidence. If you're doing it -- and I know those guys over there, I watch enough film to know they're going to pick on guys -- and if I left him out there, they were going to pick on him the rest of the game. I got to be smart enough as a coach to say, 'You know what, I'm going to protect my guy.' "
Reflecting on the Marshall touchdown and the ensuing banishment to the sideline, Rogers said: "I made a mistake. It happened. Whatever the consequences, I got to deal with it, and I got to live with it. If that's not playing, I'm here to support the team."
Gray said other cornerbacks have had mental lapses in recent weeks, but Rogers was ignoring his progressions. Preparing for a potent Dallas passing attack, it'll be a focal point at practice all week for Rogers.
"Just stay with my eyes on the receivers longer and more cushion," Rogers said. "I'm kind of a guy like, I want to be on my receiver. I want to be tight and tough. Probably need to stay more depth, stay more over the top and just keep my eyes on the receiver.
"That's the only thing I can do. That's the only thing Jerry told me to do. Don't stop my aggression. Don't stop being a physical corner. Just keep your eyes on the receiver and loosen up your cushion."
The Redskins selected both Rogers and his Auburn teammate Jason Campbell in the first round of the 2005 draft. A consistent starter, Rogers hasn't blossomed into the playmaker the Redskins had hoped, part of the reason the team paid so heavily to put cornerback DeAngelo Hall opposite Rogers last year.
This season, Rogers doesn't have a single interception, and this is the second straight year coaches have put him on the bench in order to make a statement. Last year, Rogers was benched in Week 14 in favor of Shawn Springs, then started Week 15 but had to come off the bench in the season finale to record his second interception of the year.
"He's a guy who's been in the league for a while," said Campbell. "He understands there's going to be times things don't go the way you expect. You got to bounce back and do things a little differently. Him going through that last season is going to give him the experience to know how to handle that situation."
Rogers entered training camp having again locked up the starting spot but fully aware that at season's end, he becomes a restricted free agent, which means every game and every play will by analyzed closely by the Redskins' front office and talent evaluators across the league.
While Zorn repeatedly cited safety Chris Horton as an example of a player who was benched this season and regained his starting spot, Gray says Rogers's benching isn't indicative of the cornerback's potential.
"People tend to think, 'Oh, he did this, he can't play anymore.' He can play," Gray said. "Just got to go back to the progressions. That's what we're working on. So he'll be ready to go."