Ever since kindergarten, Reed Doughty has sat in the front of the class and tried to pay close attention.
Former Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams noticed his pupil paid too much attention when he spoke in meetings during Doughty’s rookie season. Williams saw Doughty trying to read his lips and asked him to take a hearing test.
Doughty has battled his hearing deficiency since childhood, but it hasn’t stopped him from becoming a starting NFL safety.
“I have hearing loss - I am not deaf,” Doughty said. “I play on defense, so I don’t have to go off the snap count. You have to communicate with other guys, but there are so many other ways with body language, with hand signals and just knowing what you’re going to do before the play instead of just reacting all the time.
“I’ve done it for so long - and guys know they have to signal because I’m not going to hear them. In general, it can be really hard to talk to other guys on the field anyway.”
His father has severe hearing impairment and his grandmother is deaf, so Doughty’s family recognized his hearing troubles early. Until recently, Doughty got by without hearing aids. He can’t wear them on a football field anyway, so he has found ways around it.
But he also resorted to watching television with closed captioning because his wife told him how loud the volume was.
“I finally just said, ‘You know what - I am going to get hearing aids,’” Doughty said. “It has really helped in meetings and at home.”
Doughty, 25, circumvented his problem on the field by learning the defensive signals. In the past, he watched the defensive coordinator on the sideline to learn the team’s formation instead of listening to teammates relay the message in the huddle.
But this year defenses don’t have to signal in the strategy because the NFL has permitted the use of an audio device for one defensive player. Now Doughty must pay closer attention in the huddle.
“London [Fletcher] kind of knows if I can see him, I can hear him,” Doughty said. “You’ve got those big guys in the huddle. I just make sure I get in a space where I can see him and make sure I get it.”
Doughty’s partner, free safety LaRon Landry, has missed most of training camp with a left hamstring injury. It has denied them the opportunity to work together during practice, but they have some game experience together. Doughty joined the starting defensive backfield last season after Sean Taylor’s death and Landry slid from strong safety to free. This offseason, the Redskins added free agent free safety Stuart Schweigert, but he became one of camp’s first casualties when he failed to mesh well in the team’s defensive scheme.
“Toward the end of the year last year, they were playing as well as any safety tandem in the league,” safeties coach Steve Jackson said. “The fortunate part is in the meeting room they are use to communicating with each other, so it’s not like they don’t see each other or talk to each other or communicate. … One guy likes to talk and the other guy likes to listen. Fortunately, the one guy who likes to listen [Landry] is the one with the best hearing.”
Landry and Doughty make an odd pair. Landry, the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft out of LSU, entered the league with a $41 million contract and a starting gig from Day 1. Doughty, whom the Redskins selected in the sixth round in 2006 from Division I-AA Northern Colorado, has molded himself into a starter with hard work and a high football IQ.
Still, Landry looked to Doughty last year for help when it came to the playbook or football-sense questions, and Doughty knows Landry can compensate for any athletic limitations he has.
Doughty’s story makes him an underdog. His ability to overcome it all makes him a feel-good story.
“Personally, I feel like I should be here, but growing up I don’t think I ever thought I could be,” Doughty said. “I didn’t even think about it. I was just trying to get into college and play there. I don’t even think it was until my senior year that I even thought I had a shot. … I am a realistic person, maybe even too realistic.”
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