As the Redskins, coming off their first playoff victory in six years, were preparing for their final cuts in the summer of 2006, a safety they had chosen in the sixth round that April was very much on the bubble.
Washington had signed free agent Adam Archuleta to a $30 million contract to pair with rising young star Sean Taylor. Veteran Pierson Prioleau, a favorite of defensive boss Gregg Williams, was the No. 3 safety. And Vernon Fox had just been signed off waivers.
No wonder that rookie Reed Doughty didn’t think he had the roster made despite praise from Williams. After all, Doughty had only received one scholarship offer – from Division I-AA Northern Colorado – and he was neither that fast nor that strong. Doughty was, as coach Joe Gibbs liked to say “super-smart,” but that only takes a player so far.
“Coming out of high school, I was very realistic,” Doughty said then. “I love football and I just wanted to play it as long as I could. I thought I might make it on special teams as a freshman and just go from there. A lot of people dream about playing in the NFL, but you have to put in the work that realizing that dream entails. I don’t run 4.2, but I’m going to run 4.5 every time. I’m going to try to win every sprint we run. I’m going to put everything I have into special teams and keep working on my man-to-man [coverage].”
As any Redskins fan knows, Doughty survived those final cuts in 2006. More than six years later, Doughty is the only player other than three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker London Fletcher to have started both of Washington’s playoff runs during his tenure, in 2007 and 2012.
Reminded of this distinction, Doughty, who turned 30 in November, smiled and said, “There’s a lot of things that had to happen for that to happen. I’m just happy that I’m still around, starting or not. Obviously, I didn’t anticipate that. But they pay you for a reason. I’ve always been ready when someone gets hurt.”
During Doughty’s seven seasons, the Redskins have employed 20 other safeties: Taylor, Archuleta, Prioleau, Fox, Troy Vincent (2006), Curry Burns (2006), LaRon Landry, Chris Horton, Kareem Moore, Mike Green (2008), Lendy Holmes (2009), Macho Harris (2010), Sha’reff Rashad (2010), Anderson Russell (2010), Oshiomgho Atgowe (2011), D.J. Gomes, Madieu Williams, Jordan Bernstine, Jordan Pugh and Brandon Meriweather.
The only ones who’ll join him on the field in Sunday’s playoff game against Seattle are Williams, Pugh and probably Gomes. Meriweather and Bernstine are hurt and the others are gone.
Pretty incredible for a guy who has been in danger of being cut almost every year and whose starting debut was the 2007 game in Dallas in which Terrell Owens blistered Washington’s Taylor-less secondary for four touchdown catches from Tony Romo.
Five-plus years later, Doughty was the strong safety as the Redskins put the clamps on Romo and Co. two night ago to win their first NFC East title in 13 years. Doughty also led Washington with three special teams tackles, one a thumping stop of speedy Dallas return man Dwayne Harris.
“He’s a warrior,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said of the 6-foot-1, 206-pound Doughty, who missed most of the 2008 season with a serious nerve problem in his back that required surgery. “He does everything you ask him to do. When people go down, he plays at a very high level at the strong safety position. He’s a difference maker on special teams. He’s the type of guy that you need on your football team to win. He’ll be prepared. He’ll do the little things the right way.”
So much so that Doughty, who wears a hearing aid off the field but not during games because he can’t filter out the crowd noise, is the team’s sixth-leading tackler and second on special teams stop behind Pro Bowl pick Lorenzo Alexander.\Doughty still isn’t great in pass coverage, but as defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said, “He’s tough, hard-nosed and plays well [against the run].”
And for all the criticism he’s taken over the years, the Redskins are 21-26 when Doughty starts and 26-40 when he doesn’t.
While he’s signed through 2013, Doughty will likely be on the bubble again next summer, especially if Meriweather and the suspended Tanard Jackson, who were supposed to be the starting safeties this season, are back.
But that’s a topic for another day. On Sunday, Washington’s ultimate survivor will become one of just two Redskins to start the franchise’s two most recent playoff games. That’s an achievement that no one could have expected during the summer of 2006.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin