Redskins Hope Rookies Provide More

Chris Horton
Chris Horton "has been the guy that's got himself on the field," Coach Jim Zorn said of the rookie safety. "He's stayed healthy." (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 2, 2008; Page D01

After catching a short pass from quarterback Jason Campbell, rookie wide receiver Devin Thomas gained a few more yards before he was tackled last week in the first quarter of Washington's 25-17 victory over the Detroit Lions. It was Thomas's only reception, but that was one more than he had in the previous two games.

"He took full advantage of one catch. I appreciated that," Coach Jim Zorn said. "He showed something, even though it was a [nine]-yard gain."

With many of their 2008 draft picks off to slow starts, the Redskins eagerly embrace any encouraging signs from the group. All 10 of Washington's picks made the opening 53-man roster, but few contributed in the first half of the season, and only strong safety Chris Horton has made a major impact.

Ineffective punter Durant Brooks was waived last month, and the Redskins are strongly considering putting wideout Malcolm Kelly on the season-ending injured reserve list. Guard-tackle Chad Rinehart, Washington's third-round pick, has been inactive in every game. Cornerback Justin Tryon, selected in the fourth round, often appeared overmatched in coverage during the preseason.

It would be unfair to evaluate a draft class after eight games, coaches and players said, and Thomas and pass-catching tight end Fred Davis are among the rookies who have inspired optimism in recent practices. But the depth the Redskins envisioned from their big draft class has not yet materialized, and they could be short-handed because of injuries later in the season unless several drafted players show significant improvement soon.

Many key veterans are hobbled by injuries, so the Redskins (6-2) could use a boost now as they prepare to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) tomorrow at FedEx Field.

"We're definitely at that time of the year where guys are banged up, and anytime you've got rookies, you bring 'em in to play," Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said. "If guys go down, we need some of these guys to step up big for us. That's the way it is."

Horton has filled a role well, emerging as the early standout of the class. A seventh-round pick (No. 249 overall) from UCLA, Horton impressed during his first game as a starter in a 29-24 Week 2 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

"The other guys have had different hurdles to overcome," Zorn said of Washington's draft class. "Horton has been the guy that's got himself on the field. He's stayed healthy."

Filling in for strong safety Reed Doughty, who sat out because of flulike symptoms, Horton intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble. Horton permanently replaced Doughty (he is on injured reserve because of a back problem) as a starter in a Week 4 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

"I was number 249," Horton said. "I don't worry about what the other draft picks, numbers one through 248, are doing right now. But I can tell you one thing: A lot of those guys are worried about what I'm doing."

Horton leads the team with three interceptions and the secondary with 38 tackles. He was named the NFC defensive rookie of the month for September. "Yeah, he's a seventh-rounder, but we saw early on he could make plays," safeties coach Steve Jackson said. "You just saw it as soon as he got here, so we're not surprised."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company