- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

In a season marred by tragedy and riddled by injuries, the Washington Redskins discovered two unexpected gifts: unheralded young players Reed Doughty and Stephon Heyer.

Doughty, a sixth-round draft choice in 2006, hardly saw the field on defense as a rookie. But when the team pressed him into service after safety Sean Taylor was injured and then murdered in November, he showed he could become a reliable starting strong safety.

“Some people seize the moment when they get the chance,” said cornerback Fred Smoot, who replaced seven-time Pro Bowl pick Darrell Green as a starter in 2001. “That’s what Reed did. They rushed him in. The situation was crazy how it happened, [but] he didn’t try to be nobody else. He just tried to be Reed.”

Doughty lacks Taylor’s physical gifts, and he — along with the rest of the secondary — was toasted for four touchdowns by Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens in his first start Nov. 18 at Dallas.

But Doughty, an Academic All-American at Northern Colorado, learned quickly from his mistakes and began to form a formidable tandem with rookie free safety LaRon Landry.

“The second game I played down in Tampa [on Nov. 25], I made a couple of pass breakups,” Doughty said. “I just played solid that day, didn’t give up anything big. I felt like I helped the team instead of hurt the team.”

And in the rematch with the Cowboys six weeks later, Doughty knocked a sure touchdown away from Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten as the Redskins clinched a playoff berth with a 27-6 triumph.

“Obviously, I don’t have Sean’s ability,” Doughty said. “I tried to do exactly what the coaches asked me to do and be accountable to the other guys on the field. They’ll probably always go out and get somebody to challenge you, but I feel confident that I know what I can do and what I have done.

“Unlike last year, it’s not something that I wish or hope about. Then I was hoping for an opportunity. This year, I got an opportunity, and I was able to capitalize on it.”

The 25-year-old impressed veteran linebacker Randall Godfrey with how he rebounded from his first start.

“Reed let a couple of plays get behind him, but he’s smart,” Godfrey said. “He studies hard. He approaches the game like a professional. We’ll never have another Sean, but Reed’s a hitter. I have much faith in Reed. I think he’s going to have a great career.”

Heyer, who signed as an undrafted rookie in April, stepped in when Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels got hurt in training camp. He finished the year as the starter on the right side after veteran Jon Jansen broke a leg in the opener and backup Todd Wade faltered.

“I’ve gotten comfortable with the team and the guys,” said the former Maryland star, who started six of the final 13 games. “I’ve started to understand the playbook a lot better. I feel comfortable on the left or right side.”

Heyer, who turns 24 this month, is the only one of Washington’s top seven linemen who will be younger than 31 next season. Jansen missed all but 18 minutes in two of the past four seasons, has a salary cap number of $7.7 million and turns 32 this month.

There’s a chance the Redskins might let him go and make Heyer the starter.

A more likely prospect, though, is that Heyer returns as the top reserve and the Redskins bank that Jansen and right guard Randy Thomas, who missed all but six quarters with a torn triceps, return strong and stay healthy.

Line coach Joe Bugel also could begin to groom Jansen to move to guard, where Pete Kendall, who turns 35 in July, resides.

“Stephon’s a tough kid,” Kendall said. “He’s adjusted to life in the NFL, the preparation that it takes — not just the mental but the physical preparation, the study. He’s demonstrated that he has the potential to play a long time in this league. As he becomes more experienced, he’s going to be a good ballplayer.”

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