- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

Running stride for stride down the field with veteran receiver James Thrash on Tuesday morning, rookie safety Reed Doughty thought he was doing his job. Then Thrash made a move, broke free and caught a long pass.

It wasn’t a “Welcome to the NFL moment” per se. But it was another reminder that the NFL is not the North Central or Great West Conference — the two leagues Doughty played in while starring at Northern Colorado the last four seasons. Thrash and the rest of the Redskins’ receivers and tight ends are better than just about everybody Doughty faced in Division I-AA and D-II competition.

The things Doughty had to remember in college must be forgotten. The Redskins Way of playing safety is being hammered into his brain in every meeting, walk-through and practice.

“I covered Thrash on that play the way I would cover a college guy,” said Doughty, who will periodically share his thoughts on the college-to-pro transition with The Washington Times. “But I have to learn a new way to play. You can still challenge receivers but with a different technique. Whatever I’ve learned, I’ve had to stop using. They don’t want to hear, ‘I used to do this in college.’ They say, ‘This is how we do it.’”

Doughty’s first 10 days of training camp have been eventful. He has taken practice snaps alongside starters Sean Taylor and Adam Archuleta. He has covered receiver Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley. He got burned in last week’s scrimmage against Baltimore. And when he pushed Mike Sellers out of bounds Tuesday morning and then turned around, he saw right tackle Jon Jansen barreling toward him — a sequence that resulted in Jansen and rookie Kedric Golston exchanging a couple head slaps.

“I’m just glad I turned around in time — Jansen was coming pretty fast,” Doughty told fellow rookie Mike Espy. “And he’s huge [300-plus pounds].”

Doughty’s first huge opportunity to make an impression as a reserve defensive player and first-string special teams performer will be in Sunday night’s preseason opener in Cincinnati. He has to show in game conditions that he can maintain his composure while remembering his assignment. On special teams, he has to prove to coach Danny Smith he can get downfield and make a tackle.

Some say it’s all about surviving the first two weeks of camp. But Doughty said that mind-set gets a rookie in trouble.

“That’s what I was thinking at first, too,” he said. “But you can’t think, ‘Let’s just get through it.’ Every practice you have to be focused on having a good practice — not just surviving.”

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At 12:02 p.m. last Saturday, Doughty jogged onto FedEx Field with the rest of the Redskins’ safeties. The announced attendance for the scrimmage against Baltimore was more than 47,000. The biggest crowd Doughty played in front of last year was 10,809 against North Dakota State in the Fargodome.

“It was pretty incredible,” Doughty said Sunday afternoon, the Redskins’ first day off of training camp. “It was a very enjoyable experience, but I would have liked to play a little better.”

In the NFL, everyone can tell when a defensive back makes a mistake. It’s not like when the defensive tackle gets pancaked in the trenches. Errors by a safety result in long gains or touchdowns.

Against the Ravens, Doughty was solid against the run but gave up a long pass play in the middle of the field.

“I widened too much, and it created a seam down the middle of the field and both their receiver and quarterback saw it,” he said. “You can’t give up 20-yard passes like that.”

Safeties coach Steve Jackson said Doughty “looks like a rookie” on the practice field, then added, “But the good thing is that he works hard. He’s a great tackler — I mean, a great tackler. He has some things he can work on, but he has a nose for things — he doesn’t mind sticking his face into things.”

Doughty’s boldness comes in part from his role at Northern Colorado last season. His position coach, Ahmad Lowe, would watch hours of film to find ways to free up Doughty to make tackles.

“He was definitely a force the last couple years he was here,” said Lowe — also a former teammate of Doughty’s — in a telephone interview. “We made sure he was free and didn’t get many blockers to him because he was our best tackler. When we felt like a running play was coming, we’d have Reed be our eighth man in the box.”

Lowe wasn’t surprised that Doughty is succeeding more as a run stopper. Northern Colorado played primarily zone coverage, so having to cover tight ends and slot receivers one-on-one with the Redskins is an adjustment.

“We had to have him be our last line of defense, so there weren’t a lot of situations where he was in man-to-man coverage,” Lowe said. “But he’ll improve on that over time because, like I told him before he went to camp, the level of competition he’s facing with the Redskins will raise his level of play. I don’t know if he’ll be somebody who can cover Santana Moss every down but he can get to the point where he can cover tight ends and running backs.”

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Cooley can relate to all of Doughty’s frustrations and each of his doubts. Two years ago, Cooley was a third-round pick from Utah State. While not at a Division I-AA school like Northern Colorado, Cooley played in the Sun Belt Conference, where he could out-muscle linebackers and run past safeties. As a Redskins rookie, Cooley earned a starting position in the preseason finale at Atlanta and made nine regular-season starts.

Cooley also can relate to the adjustments Doughty has had to make to meet the demands of training camp, which can include 14-hour days when players must endure two practices and position meetings.

“I didn’t get my second wind until my second season,” he said. “My college season ended before Thanksgiving, and my rookie year [in the NFL] we still had six games left [then]. But you keep going.

“I’ve talked to Reed a lot and the things he’s saying, I remember feeling the same way as a rookie. The coaches try to show examples to other players through you because you’re a draft pick. If I make a mistake now and then and another tight end does it, the coach will make an example of him. They won’t say as much to the starters. They’ll put everything on the rookies. But when they’re hard on you and stay on you, that’s when you know they like you and think you can improve.”

But nobody is immune from the wrath of assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams. When he gets on rookies, he often mentions their college teams. And with Doughty, it goes one step further.

“He says things like, ‘That might cut it at Northern Colorado, but not here,’ or, ‘You might be able to cover that receiver in I-AA, but not here,’” Doughty said. “And it’s true.”

Jackson said Doughty’s main goal should be consistency in all areas: coverage, against the run, communicating with teammates, and remembering the Redskins Way of playing safety.

“Young guys get out there under the lights and their heart starts racing, their memory starts to fade and all of a sudden, you revert back to college,” Jackson said. “The games are about how well he makes the transition to the big lights.”

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