Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hunting with the Predator: Group Effort by Matt Wallace

One of the best things that happened to Chris Horton after he arrived in Washington was Reed Doughty.
Last preseason Horton battled his way into the minds of the coaches, making a name for himself from day one of training camp. But despite all his hard work, he still sat behind a major force in Reed Doughty on the depth chart. Doughty, like Horton had come onto the squad as a late round draft pick and had fought his way onto the field, solidly filling the massive void left by the tragic death of number 21 in late 2007. Reed’s play in the last six games of that year made him the go-to choice for the first string spot come 2008.
That all changed one Sunday morning last September when Reed came down with the flu, giving Horton the nod to start. I won’t say the rest is history, because it’s all still pretty fresh in every Skins fan’s mind. Horton made the absolute most of his starting opportunity, garnering NFC Defensive player of the week for his effort, and taking over the starting job from Doughty.
If character is revealed in pursuit of an opportunity, it is also revealed in processing misfortune.
A pinched nerve ended Doughty’s 2008 season, resulting in surgery and the requisite recovery effort. As if he didn’t have enough challenges on his plate to begin with. He had already fought through a difficult dichotomy in caring for his new son during a life-threatening illness while maintaining his intense focus on the game. Doughty is also hearing impaired, which I am sure he would never offer as being a setback to begin with. That’s just the kind of stand up guy he is.
The moment he was able, Doughty began his training for 2009. Coming back to the Skins after a brief free agency, he was itching to re-prove his worth. And that is exactly what he has done this preseason.
Coming into training camp, prognosticators declared that Doughty and Horton would be fighting for the starting position at strong safety. However these predictions we squashed early on as Horton was declared the starter heading into the season. Didn’t matter to Doughty, who has played like a champion since coming into camp. Head down, powering through, just like Horton. They both have somewhat similar playing styles, harassing opponents and driving through each play with force.
Coming into the final preseason game at Jacksonville, the stage was primed for the underdogs. As expected, the starters only took one series on O and D, which provided a last chance for those on the bubble to make a case for themselves. Arguably, the coaches already knew what Doughty can do, so even a mediocre game for him would have sufficed. But if you know anything about Doughty, you know that he will give nothing but his best effort.
Number 37 was all over the place! He pressured the QBs and extinguished runs from both sides of the field. It seemed like he was in on most every defensive play for the majority of the game. This game proved consistent with his high level of play during this whole preseason. If some weren’t informed, it might seem like Doughty was giving Horton a run for his starting spot.
But, a few instances from last night’s game dictate why this isn’t quite the case. Doughty missed an interception opportunity because he was too focused on crushing his receiver, who never looked at the ball. He was also a half a step behind on a pass play that led to a touchdown. Arguably this play shouldn’t have even involved him as two other guys missed their tackles. Reed came in to make the stop just a hair too late, and his frustration was palpable, even though he had gone above and beyond his duty on the play.
Although Doughty put up one of the best showings for the Skins against Jacksonville, Horton made the most of his series. As usual, he was always in position, anticipating plays, and finishing through each down with urgency. The fireworks came as he fought around the run blocks to level Maurice Jones-Drew on the sidelines for no gain. I think I actually heard an explosion.
Having such a strong and devoted player like Doughty behind him is a blessing for Horton. As Doughty will battle through practices and his second string duties, he will keep Horton on the very tips of his toes. It’s too bad not every starter on the team has a second man as determined as Doughty to keep him alert and eliminate any complacency that might creep into his work ethic.
The beauty is that there is no Me vs Him on the Redskins for 2009 anymore. No Burgundy vs White. No Potential Starter vs Roster Prospect. Everyone is now working for the common cause. It is now We vs They. While one can view Doughty as a threat to Horton’s starting job, I like to think of him as a partner in crime. After all, every hero needs a good sidekick.
Let it be written the 2009 preseason is concluded. Bring on Week 1!

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