The transition from college to the NFL is difficult enough for most draft picks. Coupling that with learning a new position -- and a challenging hybrid role at that -- only compounds the adjustment period.
Washington Redskins rookie H-back Manuel White knows this better than most. While fans and the media have chronicled the incremental progress of quarterback Jason Campbell, the 25th overall pick in the 2005 draft, and have eagerly awaited cornerback Carlos Rogers's return from foot and ankle injuries, the Redskins' next highest pick has been struggling in near anonymity as he tries to move from college fullback to professional H-back.
White, 23, who was selected in the fourth round (120th overall), was a star running back in high school. At UCLA, he was more of a lead blocker. Now he is being asked to learn the nuances of the Redskins' offense, including going in motion, lining up in the backfield and the slot, and being asked to run routes and catch passes. Thus far, it has been slow going, as everyone on the staff expected, and the coaches plan to play him more extensively in tonight's preseason game at FedEx Field against Cincinnati to get a closer look at him.
"You know that's always going to be tough, because we're taking a running back and moving him up to a tight end position," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense. "He's coming on, but he's still light years away and it's going to be hard work to make it up in the next three weeks."
The Redskins selected White because of his natural athleticism and versatility. They believe he has the speed, hands and blocking ability to thrive as an H-back, and with his size -- 6 feet 2, 245 pounds -- he's an option as a short-yardage back, as well. But the transition has been daunting, with White required to know where most of his teammates are going to be at all times, rather than just following his blocks and looking for a hole.
White played sparingly in last weekend's preseason opener at Carolina, and the plan is to get him more snaps tonight (against the Panthers, he played some on special teams, which is where he'll have his best shot of playing during the regular season). These game experiences allow the coaches to gauge White's progress, and he figures to be on the field more in the second half of tonight's contest.
"He's had a big learning curve, and we want to play him more than what we did the other night," said Coach Joe Gibbs, who added that tight ends coach Rennie Simmons "has got him scheduled to play more. He's a very good athlete, and he also can carry the football, and at some point here I'd like to get him a few carries and kind of see what he looks like there, too. But I think it's just a work in progress, and we're working really hard with him."
The list of injured players who may miss tonight's game includes linebacker LaVar Arrington, running back Clinton Portis, defensive tackle Brandon Noble, wide receiver Taylor Jacobs, safety Matt Bowen, safety Ryan Clark, cornerback Walt Harris, cornerback Artrell Hawkins and safety Tony Dixon. . . .
H-back Chris Cooley is sporting a retro mullet, with the sides shaved almost bare. Cooley admitted that the haircut was self-inflicted and said he plans to keep it through tonight's preseason home opener. "I'm keeping it going at least a week," he said. . . .
Former cornerback Darrell Green, one of the most popular players in franchise history, has been hanging around Redskins Park this week preparing for his role as sideline reporter during the broadcast of tonight's game. . . .
Gibbs has teamed with former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach on a new NASCAR venture. Staubach is starting his own team, and Gibbs is helping to provide motors and technology. "It's going to be an interesting partnership," Gibbs said. "It'll be their own race team, but we're going to be doing a lot to help them get started." . . .
The Redskins signed rookie free agent defensive back Charles Byrd (Morehead State).