Byron Westbrook was a cute story when he signed with the Washington Redskins as a rookie free agent in 2007.
He was a local kid - DeMatha Catholic High School. He emerged from an area Division III program - Salisbury. His older brother is a player who has given the Redskins fits - star Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook.
Today, Byron is no longer a cute story. He's still with the Redskins but has yet to play a snap. After two years on the practice squad, he can't return to that role this season because of league rules. It's either the roster or the waiver wire for the 24-year-old.
"In the previous years, at least I had the fallback of the practice squad," Westbrook said. "I started working out in February, trying to do extra conditioning before the [team's] program began. I wanted to be above everybody when the actual conditioning began. I didn't want to worry about my conditioning when practice started. I just wanted to worry about making plays."
Westbrook impressed secondary coach Jerry Gray with his performance during this month's minicamp and organized team activities.
"Byron's technique was really raw when he got here," said Gray, a former Pro Bowl corner. "He looks a lot better. He's working hard. He's making plays without many mistakes. He just has to keep showing us that he deserves to be in there. He doesn't have to add anything to his game. This league is about making plays."
But no matter how many plays Westbrook makes, he's not going to knock starters DeAngelo Hall and Carlos Rogers or former starter Fred Smoot off the roster. And the Redskins are likely to keep Justin Tryon and 2009 third-round pick Kevin Barnes because of the money invested in them. It's rare for a team to have six corners on a 53-man roster.
"I don't worry about them drafting guys," Westbrook said. "If they want me here, they'll make a spot for me with one less guy at a different position. I bring a lot that's essential: speed, technique, knowing the routes that I'm going to see, having the confidence of the coaches that I can go out there and do my thing and not have to worry about me. But I still want to work on everything. If you pinpoint one thing, then other parts of your game are going to get weaker. I want to make sure everything is as strong as possible."
That includes special teams, an area where Tryon began to show special teams coach Danny Smith he could get the job done after replacing Leigh Torrence in November.
"Tryon is built to be a gunner because he's quick and small, but Danny had confidence in me to be a jammer on punt returns," Westbrook said, referring to the 2008 preseason. "I already told Danny wherever he needs me, I'll be there."
The odds of Westbrook getting a chance to tackle his big brother aren't good, but Gray has helped other corners rise from long shot to regular.
"If you look at it on paper, Byron's not here, but I've coached Jabari Greer, who was a rookie free agent [with the Buffalo Bills] and supposedly didn't have a chance and he just got a big contract this offseason," Gray said. "Leigh Torrence wasn't supposed to be here, but he wound up playing a lot. I tell Byron, 'Keep busting your tail, do what you do well and I'll help you do that. I promise that you'll have a chance to be on this team.' "
In fact, Gray has told Westbrook that he's "on pace" to make the team.
"I don't want to go nowhere," Westbrook said. "I'm a hometown guy. I'm a Redskin at heart. I love the guys here. Hopefully everything works out for me. But in the end, if the opportunity isn't here for me, it will be - somewhere else."
Note - The Redskins have about $3.5 million in their rookie salary cap pool to sign Barnes and the rest of the 2009 draft class: first-rounder Brian Orakpo, fifth-rounder Cody Glenn, sixth-rounders Robert Henson and Eddie Williams and seventh-rounder Marko Mitchell.
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