- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

It has taken much of the season to become evident, but the Washington Redskins appear to have a solution at left guard in rookie Derrick Dockery.

Dockery has demonstrated consistent improvement since being thrust into the starting lineup in late September when Dave Fiore’s knee flared up. Coach Steve Spurrier, often reluctant to discuss any one player extensively, yesterday endorsed Dockery and indicated he would like to stick with him next season.

“He’s come along nicely,” Spurrier said. “He seems to get a little better each week. Once he gets a little stronger, I think he has a chance to be a top-flight offensive lineman for a long time.

“We don’t know if Fiore will be healthy [next season] or not. He’s had four or five [knee] surgeries. When a guy has four or five surgeries, you don’t know if he can come back or not. We hope he does. But Dockery right now looks like a guy who has a chance to be here for a long time.”

Dockery’s status certainly was more clouded following the Redskins’ Oct.5 meeting with Philadelphia, their opponent Saturday at FedEx Field.

That day defensive tackle Darwin Walker capitalized on mental errors by Dockery, sacking quarterback Patrick Ramsey and then batting Ramsey’s arm to trigger an interception. The pick, by defensive end N.D. Kalu, was returned for a touchdown that snapped a third-quarter tie and gave Philadelphia the lead for good.

Dockery struggled the next week against Tampa Bay, too, and didn’t really settle down until Nov.2 at Dallas. The massive (6-foot-6, 345 pounds) third-round pick credits the turnaround to late video sessions and sit-downs with veteran linemen — as well as the ability to shake off his mistakes.

“I’m just having fun,” Dockery said. “I’m not dwelling on the mistakes. ‘You jumped offsides. You missed this block. You made this mistake.’ You move on, because it’s just one play.”

Happy returns

Another Redskin who has rallied from a tepid start is return man Chad Morton, who now ranks among the conference leaders on both kickoffs and punts.

Actually, Morton is two returns shy of qualifying for the official leader in punts, a problem he hopes to rectify Saturday. Two factors have limited his chances there: in three games injuries led to Patrick Johnson assuming duties, while generally Morton still is figuring out when to return a punt, when to fair-catch and when to let it fall.

In discussing decision-making, Morton gave an example of why it’s so important for a return man to learn the blocking styles of his teammates. On one punt this season Morton called for a fair catch when he saw an opponent surging downfield against cornerback Champ Bailey.

“[Bailey] likes to let them run down and then get them at the very end,” Morton said. “I fair-caught it, and then Champ rode him out of bounds. By that time it was too late.”

Overall, special teams coach Mike Stock has been impressed with Morton’s decision-making. But it’s the continuing small adjustments that make Morton optimistic the return units can pick up next season where they’re leaving off now.

“Imagine if we started off hot, how good we could end up,” said Morton, whose 23.6-yard kickoff return average ranks fifth in the NFC and 10.4-yard punt return average would rank sixth. “We might be top-three [in both areas].”

Extra points

Cornerback Champ Bailey was presented the B.J. Blanchard “Good Guy” Award for his cooperation with the media. It was the second straight year Bailey received the award. …

Cornerback Fred Smoot is in position to become the first Redskin to lead the team in interceptions three straight years. Smoot’s four interceptions lead safety Matt Bowen and injured safety Ifeanyi Ohalete by one apiece. …

Some young players might see increased (or in some cases, their first) action in the Eagles game, Spurrier said. …

Heavy rains caused scheduling confusion. Spurrier first had the team go to Dulles SportsPlex to practice indoors, then changed course when the weather cleared. The team ended up working out at Redskin Park. Spurrier said he continues to press owner Dan Snyder for some sort of protected field at the team’s headquarters.

“We keep advocating it,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully someday it will happen. But that’s up to the owner.” …

The team will practice today despite the holiday.


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