In his return to the starting lineup Sunday, safety Reed Doughty tied for the lead in tackles during the Washington Redskins’ victory over Tampa Bay. He might lead the entire NFL in walks.
This year alone, Doughty will have served as honorary chairman of the National Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Walk, the Spinal Research Foundation’s We’ve Got Your Back Run/Walk and, coming Oct. 17, the Washington DC Walk4Hearing, sponsored by the Hearing Loss Association of America.
“There are a lot of guys on our team who do charity work through their own foundations,” he said. “Since I don’t have one foundation, I felt it was best to work for causes that are close to me. Everybody has a cause, and I understand that nothing is so profound as when it affects your family.”
Doughty has suffered from chronic hearing loss since childhood and started wearing hearing aids two years ago, except when he plays. He uses hand signals, “but it’s really knowing what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said. “Being a defensive player is more about reaction than hearing, so I cope.”
Although the Redskins’ schedule likely will keep Doughty from attending the HLAA event, he is an active and willing participant and spokesperson.
“Reed has been great with anything we’ve needed,” HLAA deputy executive director Barbara Kelley said. “Whenever you send an e-mail or call to Redskins Park and say, ‘Reed Doughty,’ they respond so fast. They just love Reed. They say they could put Reed in any situation and he’d be perfect. I’ve seen that with him. He’s articulate. He’s got a beautiful personality.”
Doughty’s hearing problem is but one of several significant challenges that he and his family have faced. In August 2006, his wife, Katie, gave birth to a son six weeks premature. Micah Doughty was born with chronic kidney failure, requiring dialysis, constant medication and eventually a transplant last year. He is now doing fine.
“He still takes the suppression drugs and stuff like that to make sure he doesn’t reject [the transplant], but he’s doing good and doing all the stuff that 3-year-olds do,” Doughty said.
Another son, Caleb, was born seven months ago without complications.
As if Doughty hadn’t handled enough, a back injury last year threatened his career. Bothered by pain and numbness that also affected his leg, he went on the injured list in mid-October and missed the rest of the season. He had spinal fusion surgery two weeks later, a risky procedure for an athlete.
“I saw three different specialists, and all of them said this was a pretty serious thing,” he said. “One particular doctor, a very good surgeon who I respect, told me this might be it. He said there was no guarantee the pain would heal and no guarantee I’d ever play again.”
But the surgery was successful and, after rigorous rehabilitation, Doughty said he is feeling better than ever.
“A lot of people can say that because they’ve got contract issues and they want to say they feel healthy, but I think it also speaks to my play and the way I’m moving on the field,” he said. “I think the coaches have definitely noticed my fluidity, I guess, being able to move better and compete better and not be hurting all the time.”
Said Defensive coordinator Greg Blache: “Reed’s better than he’s ever been. His back’s better, his speed’s better, he’s feeling better, he’s more athletic. Reed’s playing as good [of] football as he’s played since we’ve had him. That surgery he had, I mean, it just kind of freed him up to become a much better football player.”
Doughty earned the 2008 Redskins’ “courage” award as voted by his teammates. He said the difficulties, especially with Micah, have made him and Katie better people.
“We really stood by our faith and God and each other, and I think it made my wife and I better parents,” he said. “I feel blessed for it, to be honest. That we could get through it and say, ‘That’s what we’ve been through.’ ”
Doughty joined the Redskins in 2006 as a long shot, a sixth-round draft pick from Division I-AA Northern Colorado, and played mainly on special teams. During the 2007 season, Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor was killed. Doughty not only absorbed the stunning emotional blow, he had to take Taylor’s place in the lineup.
“I knew that I wasn’t replacing him,” he said. “I knew I was just taking his place in the lineup and the team couldn’t rely on me for the same kind of output. I was just trying to help the defense, do my job, be accountable and help the team win. But it was tough. There was a lot of emotion. I guess the weight fell on my shoulders.”
As the Redskins won their last four games and made the playoffs, Doughty played well enough to enter the 2008 season as the starter. Then his back gave out. Because of the injury, the Redskins made Doughty an unrestricted free agent during the offseason (“a business decision,” he said), and he re-signed for less money after briefly conversing with a few teams.
Doughty began this season backing up Chris Horton, the seventh-round pick who played well as a rookie in 2008 after Doughty was out of the lineup. Horton started the first three games but was benched after committing a costly pass-interference penalty in the loss to Detroit in Week 3. But he continues to contribute in different defensive schemes. His fumble recovery helped seal Sunday’s victory over Tampa Bay.
“[Horton] has a little bit better athleticism,” Blache said. “And [Doughty] has got a little bit more experience and recognition.”
As they have switched places more than once on the depth chart, the pair has maintained a professional relationship. When Doughty was struck by a virus before the New Orleans game last year, he sent Horton a text message from the hospital in the early morning hours, told him he couldn’t play and offered encouragement to his replacement. Horton went out and earned NFC defensive player of the week honors in his first career start.
“It’s not like there’s gonna be some animosity between us,” Horton said. “It’s not like that. We feel like, whoever the coaches decide to play, that’s on the coaches. But we’re gonna come out and work every day and help each other out.”
“We’ve got a really good relationship. Any time there’s something I need or that I might not see on the field, he’ll come to me and say, ‘All right, you might need to do this, or you should do that.’ He definitely helps me out.”