RICHMOND — Scot McCloughan is fond of praising his unheralded young contributors, and so the Redskins general manager was ticking them off during a recent television appearance.
There’s guard Brandon Scherff. Linebacker Preston Smith. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder.
“Poor Kyshoen, of course, getting hurt kills me,” McCloughan said.
“Poor Kyshoen” would be Kyshoen Jarrett, among last season’s biggest surprises, and if football were fair, he would indeed be part of this team’s young core. A sixth-round pick with little draft buzz and minimal expectations, Jarrett took advantage of Washington’s reboot to became a regular contributor on a playoff team. He was beloved by teammates and coaches, relied upon throughout the secondary, and regularly listed as one of McCloughan’s promising young finds.
Football, though, isn’t fair. An apparent stinger suffered in Washington’s 2015 regular season finale caused nerve damage in Jarrett’s right shoulder. He saw a variety of doctors and specialists during the offseason, was never cleared to return, and was waived in July with a failed physical designation. His future in the game remains in doubt. That McCloughan keeps mentioning Jarrett hints at how painful his departure has been. Football devours its contributors and then moves on; another season will produce more unexpected standouts and more serious injuries. But for the Redskins team left behind, this one still hurts.
“Your heart breaks for him, for the injury that happened,” veteran defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. “You hope that he can get everything straightened back out so that life as he knew it will be the same, and he’ll be able to come back out here and play.”
“You want to know, why is it happening to someone like him?” veteran defensive back Will Blackmon said. “Maybe he has a greater purpose. It’s hard to see that, but just knowing the type of person he is — how he came into this world of the NFL and had an immediate impact — I know for a fact that no matter where he goes, he’s going to be the same.”
Jarrett has told teammates and coaches that his health is improving, and that he’s still determined to make it back onto a football field. He’s also talked to them about his faith, and about God’s will. (Attempts to get in touch with the 23-year old defensive back were unsuccessful, and his mother didn’t want to discuss his condition.) And although he hasn’t been at Redskins training camp this summer, he hasn’t been far away, either.
Blackmon talked to Jarrett during the first week of camp. So did former Virginia Tech teammate Kendall Fuller, now a Redskins rookie. (“His spirits are high, which lifts my spirits,” Fuller said.) Jarrett still appears in video cut-ups that coaches use in meetings; “When you turn on the tapes, our teaching tapes, he shows up all the time doing things right,” said defensive backs coach Perry Fewell. “And we say, ‘Hey, do it like this guy.’ ”
When DeAngelo Hall was asked about Fuller, he offered high praise, saying the rookie is “cut from the same as cloth as Kyshoen Jarrett,” and that “those guys are football players.” Linebacker Will Compton recently sent Jarrett a text to demonstrate his feelings: all it contained was a sad-faced emoji. And Fewell said he thinks about Jarrett “every day, every single [day].”
“And it does break your heart that he can’t be with us right now,” Fewell said. “He has a desire to play ball, and that’s motivating him to get up and work out and do the things that he needs to do every day. He looks at the tape, he texts us, he calls. He says, ‘You guys having fun?’ and he says, ‘I’m gonna get back on the field.’ … He has some bad days, don’t get me wrong. But then you turn around, he comes back the next day and he’s got that smile. He’s got that determined look on his face, and he says he’s gonna beat this thing.”
Every autumn, you hear about dozens of rookies who love and understand the game, but to his veteran teammates, Jarrett stood out. He would play nickelback, dime and safety in the same game — a challenge for a veteran much less a rookie — and grade out at 85 percent or higher. When he spoke up in the meeting room, he asked questions usually reserved for third- and fourth-year players. He kept attending those defensive back meetings throughout the offseason, even though he was unable to play. Once this summer, Fewell looked out on the Redskins Park practice fields and saw Jarrett jogging around the field by himself and literally rolling around in the grass.
“He just loves it that much,” Fewell said. “He eats it. He breathes it. He sleeps it.”
The long-term damage from playing football makes many of us feel uneasy, causing the sport sometimes to feel less like idle fun and more like a guilty pleasure. But an injury like Jarrett’s is more immediately jarring. One day, he’s an exciting part of a rebuilding team’s future. The next day teammates are sending him sad-faced emoji and telling him how much they miss him.
For those teammates, the game hasn’t changed. They know the injury rate is 100 percent, and they’ve been “taught at a young age that when you think about it, that’s when it happens,” as Golston put it.
“You just don’t think about those things,” Fewell said.
“I know what I’ve signed up for,” Compton said.
Still, I don’t know how you can watch this month’s preseason games — or even the real ones — without holding your breath a bit and hoping that no one’s career reaches the brink. Jarrett’s emergence was about doing things right: the Redskins recognizing late-round potential, an eager player lapping up knowledge, McCloughan’s young core adding another member. Then he vanished, with Coach Jay Gruden saying, “We’re mostly concerned about him getting better as a person and being able to function [and] do things he needs to do in life.”
Thursday night, the team posted a brief video of Blackmon talking to a group of young teammates before Washington’s preseason opener. His words were supposed to be motivational. But I couldn’t help but think about one of the players who would have been in that huddle a year ago.
“Take advantage,” Blackmon urged the youngsters. “Take advantage, because you never know.”