- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2009

They don’t want to admit it because, since the first day they played football, preparing as if you were a starter was hammered into them.

But Fred Davis couldn’t help it and said what has been on display during the Washington Redskins’ 3-9 season: Young players improve when they’re on the field on Sunday.

“It does make you work a little harder when you get a chance to contribute,” said Davis, a role player until tight end Chris Cooley broke his ankle in Week 7.

Said secondary coach Jerry Gray: “Anytime a young guy feels like he’s going to get a chance to play, he always perks up.”

The Redskins aren’t going to the playoffs. They have 10 players - including five Week 1 starters - on injured reserve. There is only one thing to do while waiting for the coaching staff and quarterback issues to be resolved.

It’s time to get a head start on 2010. That means:

Figure out whether the middle to bottom part of the roster needs tweaking.

Decide whether a young player’s performance makes a veteran expendable.

Ascertain whether the draft picks are developing properly.

It’s time to get the view of five players who are playing only because of injuries to other players. Is Davis right - does the preparation change? How did they stay sharp when they weren’t playing? What’s the next month going to be like?

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Through the first six games, Davis distinguished himself by what he didn’t do - he was subpar in the run game and so ineffective as a blocker on kickoff returns that he was replaced by Cooley.

But everything changed when Cooley was lost for the year. Instead of playing 15 to 20 snaps, Davis was playing 50 to 60. Instead of being a bit player, he became a good target for Jason Campbell with 17 catches and two touchdowns in the past five games.

“It changes a lot because you know you’re going to be in there, so you definitely want to be at your best,” Davis said. “When you know you’re playing, you want to do good, so it changes your attitude and it does make you work a little harder when you get a chance to contribute.

“I did a lot of show-team stuff [before Cooley’s injury] and did some of the starters’ stuff sometimes, but you get more comfortable with the offense when you practice it all the time. There’s going to be a game coming soon where I have one of those big games.”

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Cornerback Byron Westbrook wasn’t guaranteed anything when he reported to his second NFL training camp. The undrafted free agent spent last year on the Redskins’ practice squad but saw the logjam at his position.

Most thought Westbrook and Justin Tryon were battling for one roster spot. Both made the team, but Westbrook had to wait his turn. He has played in all but one game but didn’t play his first defensive snap until the Philadelphia game two weeks ago… and blitzed from the left slot position.

“In the Philadelphia game, I was the fourth corner so I was focused on special teams. But when players go down, you have to know your stuff regardless if you’re going to play a lot or not,” he said. “I was prepared, and I fit in when I went in. … It’s different between seeing on the sidelines and actually checking somebody. The first couple plays, I see what the offense is trying to do and got into the flow of the game.

“You can’t be shellshocked, because they’ll come right after and try to make a play. There was no time saying, ‘Oh my god, I’m finally out here.’ ”

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Kevin Barnes - the Redskins’ third-round pick last spring - was inactive the first 10 games, but injuries to DeAngelo Hall and Tryon put him on the field at Philadelphia in crunch time. He also played last week against New Orleans.

Barnes and Tryon in particular will be on display this month. Fred Smoot is 30 and faces an uncertain future if the Redskins opt to go young. And judging by the way Carlos Rogers has been treated this year, he isn’t a big part of the future. That leaves Barnes to make an impression in the few snaps he gets.

“I prepared every day like I was going to play even though I knew the chances weren’t that good,” he said. “Being able that I did that, when I got the chance, I was so much more comfortable. Practice isn’t different because I’m still a young guy who’s not starting. I have to continue to build and show the coaches I’m capable of having a bigger role next year.”

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Kareem Moore established himself as a core special teams player in training camp and on defense as a heavy hitter in mop-up time of preseason games. But he remained the fourth safety in a system that played three corners and three safeties when it went with a dime package.

Moore played 11 snaps in the first half of the year but has seen more playing time in dime situations since the season-ending toe injury to Chris Horton. Moore intercepted his first pass against the Saints, but the play turned infamous when he was stripped and New Orleans scored on the return.

“[Practice] changes because you want to prove to everybody that you know what you’re doing and will make the right play and make sure you’re accountable to your teammates,” he said. “In certain situations, you need live reps and you want to get that good look from another guy when he’s running such and such speed. Getting the live experience is better.

“It was pretty tough [watching] because you come from being the guy on campus, and here you’re just another guy. I had to just stay in the playbook, and when it’s time to go out there, you know what do to. At first, you’re like, ‘Man, this is the NFL. I’ve been watching these guys all my life.’ But that second or third game, it becomes, ‘I’m going out to make some plays.’ ”

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Anthony Montgomery is the veteran of this group, a fourth-year player who started 16 games (including the playoff loss to Seattle) for the Redskins in 2007, but he lost his job to Kedric Golston last year and took another step back with Albert Haynesworth’s arrival this year.

Montgomery fought a knee injury in September and then didn’t play when healthy. He didn’t make his season debut until a 14-snap appearance at Dallas, followed by limited playing time the past two games. The subject of trade rumors at the October deadline and an unrestricted free agent, Montgomery hopes to take advantage of Haynesworth’s injury to see increased action.

“When you’re doing the look team [in practice], you’re playing the cards for the other teams, it’s hard [to improve] because you’re doing their plays and that’s not necessarily our scheme,” he said. “If I’m not playing, I don’t get any reps with the real defense.

“It’s always important to put good film out there. I’ve been playing but not a lot - about nine snaps a game, and when I do play, it’s a snap here, a snap there. But it’s better than not getting anything.”

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