Seven years ago this spring, the Redskins were coming off a year in which they were 31st in scoring and 30th in yards. They had invested heavily in defense during the previous off-season, drafting safety Sean Taylor fifth overall and signing free agents Mike Barrow, Phillip Daniels, Cornelius Griffin, Shawn Springs and Marcus Washington.
All except Barrow had become starters for a defense that ranked third in yards surrendered and fifth in points allowed under assistant head coach Gregg Williams.
And yet, Williams convinced coach Joe Gibbs to use the ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft on more help for the defense. Williams wanted a cornerback to eventually replace the aging Walt Harris and after considering Miami’s Antrel Rolle and West Virginia’s Pac Man Jones, settled on Auburn’s Carlos Rogers.
The rookie missed four games with injuries while only starting five and his most memorable play was a dropped interception with nothing but grass ahead of him in the divisional round playoff defeat at Seattle.
Rogers remained for five more years in Washington including two tumultuous years under Williams’ successor, Greg Blache, and another in which he had his foot out the door from the start but he never got that far again in the playoffs. Until now.
Tomorrow afternoon, the 30-year-old Rogers, who’s heading to his first Pro Bowl next month, will start in the first home postseason game of his eight seasons. He’ll be wearing the red and gold of the second-seeded NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers.
The opponent, ironically, will be the third-seeded NFC South champion New Orleans Saints, whose defensive coordinator is none other than Williams.
So while the two defenses won’t oppose each other, Williams, who won a ring with the Saints two years ago a little over two years after being fired by Redskins owner Dan Snyder instead of being promoted when Gibbs retired, stands clearly in the path of Rogers’ hopes of celebrating a championship.
“Carlos was a really good draft choice for us,” Williams said Thursday after the Saints conducted their final practice for their showdown with Rogers and the 49ers. “I’m really pleased with how he’s been able to grow as a player. I was very, very hard on him with the Redskins. I’ve teased him for so many years (about) how hard it is for him to catch the ball, (but) he’s had a great year catching the football (six interceptions, one shy of the NFL’s most). He’s a special player. It will be good for me to have a chance to see him.”
Redskins fans will also get a chance to see the other Washington alumni playing this weekend in the NFL’s version of the Elite Eight: 49ers kicker David Akers (1998); Saints cornerback Leigh Torrence (2006-07); Giants receiver Devin Thomas (2008-10); Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (1999-2003); and Texans punter Matt Turk (1995-99). Defensive end Andre Carter (2006-10) is on injured reserve for the Patriots.
That leaves the Packers – whose defensive line coach, Mike Trgovac, filled the same role in Washington in 2000-01, and the Ravens – whose offensive coordinator is 1994-96 Redskins quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron — without a player who ever suited up in a regular season game for the Redskins which must mean we’re going to have a Green Bay-Baltimore Super Bowl, right?
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its web site columnist since last March.