- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2015

RICHMOND — Five years removed from his college days at the University of Richmond, cornerback Justin Rogers still refers to the city, the last in which he had a steady role on a football team, as home.

Mere miles away from the familiarity of that campus, Rogers is now vying for a more permanent spot with the Washington Redskins than he’s found during his time bouncing around the league. After a series of injuries hit the team’s secondary, Rogers is suddenly getting first-team reps and competing for an unexpected chance to make the opening roster.

“The more reps you get, the more opportunities you have for making plays, and that’s what camp is really about and that’s what coaches want to see, who can make plays,” Rogers said. “So, when guys go down, you get more plays, you get more reps and more opportunity to play.”

Rogers got more opportunity after top nickelback Bashaud Breeland sprained the MCL in his right knee on July 31, the second day of training camp. Breeland should be healthy in four to six weeks but will miss the team’s season opener because of a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Breeland’s injury was another hit to a secondary that would later by depleted by injuries to cornerbacks David Amerson and Chris Culliver and free safety Jeron Johnson. DeAngelo Hall’s continued recovery from a torn left Achilles’ tendon also was a factor in moving Rogers up the depth chart.

“He has taken care of taking advantage of the reps both at nickel and corner,” coach Jay Gruden said. “…and I like what he’s doing at nickel. I really really do. And, he’s also doing a very good for Ben [Kotwica] on special teams, so he has definitely made his presence felt and he’s doing a good job.”

Rogers was drafted in the seventh round in 2011 by the Buffalo Bills. He spent two seasons with the Bills and played in 39 games, starting seven of them, recording 64 tackles, three interceptions and one forced fumble.

He was released by the Bills early in the 2013 season and then had brief stints with the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins. Rogers was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014, but never made the regular-season roster. He was in limbo until the Redskins picked him up in December for the final three games of the 2014 season. He’d played in just one NFL game since being released from Buffalo.

Rogers played outside in college, winning an FCS national championship with Richmond in 2008, but was moved inside in Buffalo, a move that he finds is proving helpful now.

The coaching staff decided that Amerson, who sprained the AC joint in his left shoulder during the first week of training camp but has returned to practice, is best suited to play outside, freeing up more reps for Rogers, whose experience and football intelligence make him a good choice at such a versatile position.

He could be pushed by sixth-rounder Kyshoen Jarrett, but the rookie played safety at Virginia Tech and hasn’t played nickelback since his freshman season. His fellow sixth-round pick, Tevin Mitchel, fit more naturally in that position but injured tore the labrum in his right shoulder on Aug. 1, was cut and was picked up by the Indianapolis Colts last week.

Even with the competition underway, Rogers described the secondary as a “close-knit” bunch. He said that they’re always asking questions of defensive backs coach Perry Fewell, and of veterans like Hall and Dashon Goldson.
Hall has been impressed by Rogers since Breeland went down, both by the plays he makes and the questions he asks.

“He’s doing great,” Hall said. “He came in when Breeland got hurt, played the nickel for us, and he’s been lights out for us. Then a couple of other guys go down and now he’s in the starting lineup. So, he’s rose to the occasion every time we’ve asked him to. I mean, I was just talking to him a little earlier, man, and he’s just a good kid. Great guy. Understands football. Hard worker. That’s what you want.”

Rogers said that his experience as an NFL journeyman makes him more motivated and prepared to take advantage of the suddenly bare cupboard in the defensive backfield, but that he isn’t changing his approach to getting noticed.

“You’ve seen a lot,” Rogers said. “I’ve pretty much played a lot of football up to this point. Not much has changed, always just working. You’ve got to keep working in this league, you know, especially when you bounce around. You’ve just got to keep chopping wood.”

With all that work and recovery time, Rogers said that he hasn’t been able to go back to all his favorite old college haunts. He has had time to go see the Richmond campus, and said some of his old coaches have been able to come out and watch him practice.

“One day we had some down time and I just went and drove around just to see how the city looks and how it changed and just kind of got that good feeling back,” Rogers said. “Like I’m home.”

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