- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

Robert Johnson has everything a coach could want in a tight end: good speed, good hands and, at 6-foot-6 and 278 pounds, good size.

Everything, that is, except good health.

The litany of injuries Johnson has suffered is as lengthy as the list of his employers during the four years since he left Auburn: wrist, foot, quadriceps, ankle; Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins.

Johnson, 26, suffered another injury on Saturday when he turned an ankle in the Redskins’ scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens. He returned to action that day, missed the next two practices and came back to the field Tuesday afternoon.

“Robert’s a gifted athlete, but football is a punishing game and some guys have a hard time sustaining themselves,” said Rennie Simmons, the tight ends coach. “He got hurt in his first camp, and the injuries haven’t stopped.”

Actually, Johnson was healthy this offseason. He didn’t miss a day of the Redskins’ three-month conditioning program. Still, if he can’t get on the field when it matters, all his tools won’t matter. To date, he has one catch in three games in his career.

“It’s been a journey,” Johnson said. “I surprise people being able to run like I do at 6-6, 275-280. That’s not just being blessed. I worked hard at being able to run, run after the catch and even block. The shorter guys, the leverage is already there and if they’re strong, they can sustain their blocks. For me, it’s difficult sometimes to stay as low as I want to, but I’m working at it.”

Undrafted rookie Buck Ortega is one of Johnson’s competitors for the third tight end spot behind starter Chris Cooley and veteran Christian Fauria.

Ortega is working on a different deficiency: He is generously listed as carrying 227 pounds on his 6-4 frame.

“I’m eating everything I see, everything and anything,” the former Miami Hurricane said.

Said Simmons: “Buck is a feisty little guy who just keeps fighting. He’s got all the instincts and he’ll give you great effort. He just needs to be more physical. He has trouble putting weight on, and he’s losing a lot of weight every day in practice.”

Unlike predecessors Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr., Ortega didn’t lose many defenders at Miami, catching just 14 passes. If he sticks in Washington, it likely will be as a member of the practice squad.

“I’m getting a lot of reps, which is always good and helping me learn and get the experience of going against these guys,” Ortega said. “Practice is one thing and the scrimmage was another step. The next step is a true game. I’m looking forward to it.”

Frost one step ahead

After punting in the Redskins’ final 14 games last year, Derrick Frost came to training camp as the favorite to retain the job.

However, special teams coach Danny Smith was upbeat this spring about Frost’s rival, Australian David Lonie, making their competition one of the battles to watch this month.

Round 1 consisted of three punts each in last Saturday’s scrimmage against the Ravens, and it clearly went to Frost. That puts Lonie under more pressure to perform well in Sunday’s preseason opener against the Bengals in Cincinnati.

“I don’t think it was because I was nervous,” said Lonie, 27, who was trained by former Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey. “I hit my first punt great, but I probably tried a bit too hard on my next two. So I came into practice this week with the mentality of relaxing. I know I can do this. I learned a lot from the scrimmage. I just want to relax and go out and hit the ball well in Cincinnati.”

The 25-year-old Frost was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns during his first three seasons out of Northern Iowa. So, he isn’t cocky, despite booming three punts against the Ravens.

“Sure, the scrimmage went well, but that’s just one day,” said Frost, whose averages of 40.4 gross yards and 36.7 net in 2005 were better than those he posted with the Browns in 2004. “I need to be more consistent in practice and have a good preseason.”

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