- The Washington Times - Friday, October 16, 2009

Chris Horton called it a play professional strong safeties should make. The Carolina Panthers were in a run formation, and it was almost as if they announced a run play toward Horton’s gap was on the way.

His pre-snap read was correct, and while Horton didn’t make the tackle, he forced the play outside for a minimal gain.

“It was obvious they were running right at me,” he said after practice Thursday. “If I would have read that play wrong, I would have [been] back standing next to the coaches.”

In the Washington Redskins’ first three games, Horton wasn’t the consistent player the coaching staff envisioned, and he found himself on the sideline watching Reed Doughty.

But after sitting for most of the Tampa Bay game (21 snaps), Horton is doing his best to regain the spot.

If he was shaken by the demotion, Horton certainly hasn’t shown it. And the coaches have noticed - Horton’s workload increased to 58 plays (out of 63) at Carolina.

“In the time I’ve played, I think I’ve done some pretty good things,” he said. “I didn’t do anything to get pulled out of the game, which means obviously I’m doing something right now.”

When the change was made, coach Jim Zorn said it might be good for Horton, who had started since early last year, to take a step back and watch a game unfold from a different viewpoint.

“You can [benefit] because sometimes you can get comfortable, and the thing is you don’t want young guys to get comfortable,” secondary coach Jerry Gray said.

The response they desired from Horton was an unchanged work ethic and the same practice habits, just better execution in terms of seeing things unfold and making the proper read regardless of whether it’s a run or pass play.

While fundamental mistakes resulted in a 22-yard run against the New York Giants and a 47-yard pass interference penalty that contributed to a Detroit touchdown, Horton has eliminated the major errors in the last three games.

“I don’t think they purposely tried to test him [with the role change], but it does bring out the best in his character,” defensive end Andre Carter said. “Chris could have complained, but he didn’t. He went about it in the right way, the professional way. He still came here and did what he had to do, and his time came again.”

Horton’s time arrived early in the Carolina game. Doughty started, but Horton played the final 57 snaps and was credited with three tackles.

For the season, Horton is playing in an unofficial 67.4 percent of the snaps and has 27 tackles.

“I don’t think I benefited from it because nothing’s been given to me from Day One,” he said of the perceived wake-up call. “I worked myself into the system and worked myself into being a good player in this league. Whether I’m starting or not, I’m going to continue to take those steps to make myself a better player.”

“I never lost my confidence. It was just one of those things - a coach’s decision. All I could do is play and do whatever I had to help the team win. If they say, ‘48, you’re up,’ I’m up.”

Against the Panthers, that meant staying on the field. In the Redskins’ scheme, Horton and Doughty have the same role in a specific package.

“Every package, we’re interchangeable,” Doughty said. “When we get to the three-safety package, we have more of a [specific] role in those.”

While the Redskins battle attrition on the offensive and defensive lines, they have an abundance of depth at safety, and the coaches aren’t immune to having three on the field at the same time. When announcing the change, the team said Doughty and Horton still would play a lot - and that wasn’t just typical Redskins lip service.

Horton and Doughty were on the field at the same time for 15 snaps, and LaRon Landry stayed on the field for each play.

“That allows us to have fun together,” Horton said. “When we’re on the field, you never know who’s blitzing and who’s covering. It gives us a chance to change up a lot of things. Teams are definitely having to guess. You saw LaRon blitz, and you don’t normally see that.”

The Redskins’ defense surrendered only 248 yards to Carolina and produced two takeaways that turned into touchdowns. During another week of tumult at Redskin Park, things seem to be settling in with the secondary - Justin Tryon has unseated Fred Smoot as the third cornerback, and Horton has bounced back from a slow start.

“Chris has a great attitude,” Zorn said. “He knows he’s a young guy, and he appreciates what Reed is doing in front of him. He’s not upset, and it’s nothing he’s been selfish about. He’s learning and progressing.”

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