CARLISLE, PA., AUG. 7 -- Every year there's a new batch. As a group, they usually aren't that much different from the one that preceded them. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they are hungry and hopeful.
They are rookies. Steve Gage is one. He was a heck of a running quarterback for the Tulsa Hurricane, but there isn't much use for good running quarterbacks in the National Football League. So the scouts told him his only chance was to play safety.
"At first," he said today after practice at Dickinson College, "I kind of said, 'Let's wait and see what I do at quarterback.' Slowly but surely I revamped my thinking. I just wanted to play in this league and free safety is the best opportunity."
After breaking Redskins assistant coach Jerry Rhome's total offense record during his senior year, Gage was invited to the Senior Bowl -- but as a safety. In his first game at the position, he made 14 tackles, deflected three passes and was named defensive player of the game. With that performance, excellent athletic ability and his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, he was selected by the Redskins with the first of their two sixth-round picks, which was their fourth overall.
Part of a free safety's job is to watch the quarterback's eyes and anticipate where the ball will be thrown. As a former quarterback, Gage would seem to have an advantage there.
"That's what they tell me I should have," he said with a smile. "But right now, I'm more concerned with learning the system. When I get some confidence, my instincts from playing quarterback should help. But I'm still a long way from being there."
The secondary is one of the most competitive areas in camp, but coaches like his progress. He also is working out as a holder, and having been a quarterback could help him make the team, especially if the Redskins keep only two quarterbacks.
The other sixth-round pick was Ed Simmons, who seems the closest to a starting spot. He has been working at right tackle with the first offense since Mark May twisted his knee. "This early in camp, it is a surprise," Simmons said. "They have really good linemen here. I didn't expect to work with the first group this early.
"I really didn't expect this to happen, but, now that it has, it brings a smile to my face. And I like the attention the fans give you. Some guys say, 'I have to get around that crowd so I don't have to give a million autographs.' But I love the attention and it helps motivate me more."
He is from Eastern Washington, and is 6-5 and about 300 pounds.
"I'd like them all to be 300 pounds," offensive line coach and assistant head coach Joe Bugel said half jokingly.
"Ed stayed the whole summer and really worked hard," Bugel said. "He has a great lower body, but we wanted him to work on his upper body. He was the dominating guy in college, and he didn't spend a lot of time in the weight room. Instead of lifting, he played hoops. I think they even wanted him to try out for the team."
Simmons said he needs to go after potential tacklers more strongly.
"I have to get more aggressive," he said. "I'm still a little passive. I don't want to mess up a play or miss an assignment."
Timmy Smith is another rookie getting extra time. The Redskins' third pick (in the fifth round), he is getting a chance to show off because George Rogers' left big toe hurts. Smith also will get extra time in scrimmage Saturday because the teams agreed to use two-back offenses. The Redskins primarily use one running back.
"He's shown a lot, and now it's a matter of seeing him in traffic," said Coach Joe Gibbs.
"He's improved and seems to have picked up some quickness in the last two weeks, probably because he's a lot more confident," said running backs coach Don Breaux. "We want to use him early in the running game, the way we would use George."
Smith, who played at Texas Tech, said: "That's why I came, to run the ball."