- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Apart from the basics — cover skills, speed, strength, desire — the Washington Redskins coaches like second-year cornerback Carlos Rogers for one reason: He isn’t afraid.

While some players would look at a disappointing individual and team performance against Minnesota and the upcoming matchup at receiver-heavy Dallas with equal parts trepidation and dread, Rogers is the opposite.

“I don’t look at this as pressure. I look at it as an opportunity,” he said yesterday at Redskin Park. “If one guy says, ‘They’re picking on me because I’m a rookie or a young player,’ I’m saying, ‘This is a chance to make my name by making plays and becoming a premier corner.’

“Even with Shawn [Springs] not playing, I look for teams to come after me because I’m still a young player and I still have to prove that I can stop whatever they can throw at me. I’ll be ready for it again this week.”

Rogers had better be ready. Dallas’ Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn represent a significant upgrade from Minnesota’s Troy Williamson and Marcus Robinson. As Springs continues to work his way back from abdominal surgery (he isn’t expected to play), the onus continues to be on Rogers to serve as the Redskins’ passing game play maker.

And it’s Rogers’ fearless demeanor that has the Redskins confident he not only will shoulder the load until Springs returns but will progress enough that the defense has two No. 1-caliber corners.

“We think he’s top flight,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “Without Shawn in there, Carlos is playing well for us. If we want somebody thrown at, it’s him.”

Even after newcomers Kenny Wright and Mike Rumph had uneven preseasons, the Vikings went right after Rogers on Monday. He was thrown at seven times and allowed completions of 20, 22 and 13 yards (he did break up three passes). But he was beaten on big plays — a touchdown to Marcus Robinson and two third-and-9 conversions, the first leading to a touchdown and the second being compounded by a missed tackle and resulting in the game-winning field goal.

This week, Redskins cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray is pitching a two-fold strategy to Rogers: forget about Monday night but also remember the details to prevent a repeat, such as when Rogers bit on a pump fake on Brad Johnson’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Robinson.

“The thing Carlos has to do is bounce back,” Gray said. “As a defensive back, you’re only as strong as what you remember. Everybody is going to pick on him, and to me, the only chance he has to be one of the best in the league is to defend the best and he has a great test this week.”

If the Redskins’ new passing offense continues to be a work in progress, so does Rogers’ transition to the NFL and starting every week. Last year, he was eased into the lineup, playing nickel at the start of the season before starting five of 12 games.

But convinced that Rogers — who had two interceptions as a rookie — was ready to play opposite Springs, the Redskins cut Walt Harris and acquired Wright and Rumph.

Gray said confidence is a required character trait for a cornerback. Those who sulk after allowing a big play will be picked on again.

“When you walk on the field as a corner in this league, you’re like an offensive tackle,” said Gray, a former four-time All-Pro corner. “The tackle has a great defensive end rushing at you on every pass play. A corner is the same way — on pass plays, you’re matched up with the most skilled guy on the field, and you have to look at it as an opportunity.”

Following practice yesterday, Gray and Rogers walked up the hill to the locker room together. Gray’s arms gyrated to make points and show technical maneuvers, and Rogers’ eyes were trained on the coach every step of the way.

As a second-year corner for the Los Angeles Rams in 1986, Gray replaced an injured player and made the Pro Bowl. He remembers being tested early and often because he was the new kid on the field.

“I’ve told Carlos they’re going to throw at him and how I don’t care what they do. He has to make them pay, and then they’ll move away from him,” Gray said.

What would help Rogers, Wright and Rumph immensely would be a solid pass rush against Drew Bledsoe. The Redskins sacked Bledsoe seven times in last December’s 35-7 shellacking at FedEx Field. The quicker pressure can be put on the veteran, the more likely he will throw into coverage — he had three interceptions at Jacksonville last week.

“Rush and coverage work hand in hand,” defensive tackle Joe Salave’a said. “If we aren’t getting to the quarterback down to the ground, it puts more pressure on the back-end guys.”

Demetric Evans had the Redskins’ only sack in 32 drop backs by Johnson.

Rogers has never faced Owens before. The receiver was suspended for both Eagles-Redskins games last year. But Rogers has seen the tape and heard the stories.

“T.O. likes to be physical — I’ve been telling the guys to get back in the weight room this week because we’ll need to be physical with him the entire game,” Rogers said.

Rogers’ other teacher is Springs, a veteran of 116 regular-season starts and 26 interceptions. Springs fought what Rogers did in 1997 and 1998 when he was a high draft pick for the Seattle Seahawks. Even after breaking up a pass, Springs would get tested.

“He has all the talent in the world, and he can be a dominant corner in the NFL, but it’s hard to get that off your back,” Springs said. “The only way to get them off your back is by making plays on the ball. Right now, every team is like, ‘We haven’t seen that from him yet. Until we do, we’ll throw bombs on him.’ But he’ll respond.”

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