- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

Washington Redskins assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams yesterday cast doubt on rookie Carlos Rogers starting the Sept. 11 opener against the Chicago Bears. Williams said the cornerback drafted ninth overall most likely would open only in certain packages, as safety Sean Taylor did last season.

“My own personal background is, especially with DBs, I try to bring them in slowly,” Williams said. “We want to make sure that we put them in situations where they don’t get a total lack of confidence, because they’re out there on the Autobahn. It’s a different game when you come into the National Football League, out there on the edge.”

Rogers’ status was among many issues Williams addressed in a wide-ranging interview on the second day of a three-day rookie minicamp. The coach, who led Washington’s defense to a No. 3 ranking last year, had been conspicuously quiet during this tumultuous offseason, but yesterday he challenged critics who say the Redskins have gotten worse since going 6-10 in 2004.

Williams sees improvement in the fact that a number of injured players have healed since season’s end and that the defensive staff remains intact for the first time since owner Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999. And he scoffed at the idea that improvement is correlated to big-name signings.

“Sometimes, sometimes, taking a more patient, cautious approach, you end up winning in the long run,” Williams said. “We’ll see. I believe the Redskins have won so far in how we’ve addressed our offseason. I know from a work standpoint, from a character standpoint, the few additions we have made will fit right in.”

Rogers is the premier newcomer to a defensive unit that lost 38 man-games (by a conservative count) to injury last season and cornerback Fred Smoot and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce to free agency in March.

Although Washington coveted Rogers most among the three cornerbacks drafted in the top 10, his pedigree and considerable potential don’t guarantee him a spot alongside veteran Shawn Springs. Williams remains confident in veteran Walt Harris and, in any case, wants Rogers to earn his way into the starting lineup.

“We promise we’re going to play the best people,” Williams said. “If the best man is Carlos, he’ll get a chance to play. But he’s done nothing in this league to earn that right right now — not one thing. Your draft status doesn’t do anything in earning you a spot on the depth chart, at least with us. Some places it does; with us it doesn’t.”

Rogers expressed no expectation of being handed anything. The former Auburn star, who made some nice plays in practice yesterday after a somewhat nervous debut Friday, said starting “ain’t even something I think about.”

“I’m just trying to learn the defense,” Rogers said. “I’ve got to learn the defense before I even think about starting. The quicker I learn that, the quicker I’ll compete for the starting job.”

Meanwhile, Williams said he’s eyeing “four or five” candidates to start at middle linebacker, and rehabilitating veteran Mike Barrow wasn’t among them. Lemar Marshall, Brandon Barnes, Brian Allen, fifth-round draft pick Robert McCune and sixth-rounder Jared Newberry appear to be in the mix.

Marshall exemplifies the versatility that Williams is seeking to develop. Undrafted out of Michigan State in 1999, he replaced Arrington on the weak side last year, is in line to replace Pierce in the middle and generally can play any linebacker spot or on special teams.

“Outside of [strongside starter] Marcus Washington and LaVar, we want the rest of them to be able to play all the positions,” Williams said. “It just makes us better when the next-best athlete can fit into the spot we need on the field.”

Although it would be surprising for a rookie such as McCune or Newberry to start at middle linebacker, where the defensive calls are made, Williams said it has happened under him before. The coach also stressed the value of developing draft picks — a not-so-subtle reference to the club’s history of binge-shopping for veterans.

“At some point in time, we’ve got to grow our own around here,” Williams said. “We can’t jump out and be worrying about correcting other peoples’ draft choices.”

One issue that doesn’t concern Williams is Taylor blowing off the offseason workout program, ostensibly to leverage a new contract. Taylor’s absence has been big news around Washington — and, to some observers, another sign of how lousy this offseason has been — but Williams had nothing bad to say about the fifth overall pick a year ago.

“We’d like for him to be here, but you know what — and you can quote me on this — I’m a Sean Taylor fan,” Williams said. “I love the kid. … He is so much fun to coach, and so much fun to have on our team. It’ll work out.”

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