- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pierson Prioleau critiqued the games like an assistant coach or as if he were still playing in the Washington Redskins‘ secondary. But as last season’s losses mounted, it became too much.

At the behest of his wife, Proleau began watching games as a fan. But as the team”s pass defense plummeted to the bottom of the NFL, that, too, became unbearable.

So he did something very drastic, something he never thought he would do.

Prioleau changed the channel on his own team.

“I would watch another game and then check back later for our score,” he said.

Sidelined with a season-ending right knee injury suffered on the opening kickoff of the Redskins‘ Week 1 game against Minnesota, Prioleau knows what he missed. The 5-11 record — last in the NFC East. The 12 takeaways — fewest in NFL history during a 16-game season. The 30 touchdown passes allowed — most in the league. The upheaval in the secondary — the team used three safeties in Prioleau’s stead.

But after nine months of rehabilitation following mid-September surgery that involved his patella tendon becoming his new anterior cruciate ligament, Prioleau is back on the field. Although rookie LaRon Landry is the expected starter, Prioleau’s knowledge and veteran presence should immediately improve the defense.

“Each week, I see more confidence from him,” assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said.

In Prioleau, the Redskins have a nine-year NFL veteran who has seven years of experience in Williams’ defense (four with Buffalo when Williams was the Bills’ coach and the last three with the Redskins). Prioleau is trusted by coaches to aid the transition of Landry and second-year player Reed Doughty; help the development of Sean Taylor; and return to the form of two years ago, when he played 15 games (six starts) and made 42 tackles.

“He was a very valuable part of our [playoff] march two years ago because he can play so many positions,” Williams said. “I’ll see Pierson take young guys aside in the meeting room and they’ll study film together. He feels comfortable passing that knowledge on, and he’s able to communicate like a coach. All those guys back there are better because of it, and we missed him a lot last year.”

Last September, things were shaping up great for Prioleau.

Partly because of his consistent play and Adam Archuleta’s ineffectiveness, Prioleau was going to start alongside Taylor against the Vikings. It was a career-altering chance, the first time since 2002 he would have a chance to start regularly.

But that chance disappeared seconds into the season, before the defense ever took the field. On the kickoff, Prioleau cut to avoid an oncoming blocker. His feet got stuck in the turf and he was done for the season.

“It was funny to feel something in the knee because I had never even had a knee sprain,” he said. “But when the pain tingled down my whole right leg, I knew it was something bad.”

An MRI the next morning confirmed Prioleau’s fears. He soon traveled to Birmingham, Ala., where team consultant James Andrews performed the surgery. Even though he was 29 and this was his first major injury, Prioleau did have thoughts about his career coming to an end.

“Initially I had thoughts about that, but I’ve seen so many guys come back from this injury, including guys on this team,” Prioleau said. “I knew once the surgery was successful, I would do my part. Young guys heal faster, but I knew that if I worked hard enough, I had seen guys come back from this injury who were older than I was. I knew hard work would be rewarded.”

For the first half of the season, Prioleau had to watch the Redskins‘ games from home. Later on, he could stand on the sideline. The results were often the same. The Redskins sunk as low as 31st against the pass before finishing 23rd. They gave up 14 more touchdown passes and had 10 fewer interceptions than in 2005.

Safeties coach Steve Jackson said Prioleau’s absence affected Taylor, who was asked to play a different role.

“Those two guys had played together for a year and then training camp,” Jackson said. “Not only were they good teammates, they were friends. To have something like that happen unexpectedly, it put Sean into a new position and he had to learn something new.”

Watching the defense struggle mightily only increased Prioleau’s drive to get back on the field. He spent most of the offseason at Redskin Park rehabilitating the injury, which left a vertical scar the length of the knee cap. When Archuleta was traded to Chicago, the assumption was that Prioleau would compete with Omar Stoutmire for the starting spot. But the Redskins drafted Landry No. 6 overall.

Prioleau still works often with the first team and will be included in several personnel groupings. If he’s healthy, he will be a big part of a retooled Redskins defense.

“The truth is, when you have a pick that high, they’re going to take over somebody’s position and you never want it to be your spot,” he said. “But you have to prepare like you’ll be the one on the field.”

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