DC native Josh Morgan is only one in a long line of distinguished pro athletes from Washington, D.C., but he's the rare one that actually gets to play in the town of his birth for the people who knew him growing up.
But there is no pro athlete — not in football or basketball, not in baseball or hockey — who is currently more of the District than Joshua Morgan, born at Washington Hospital Center 1985, graduated from H.D. Woodson High ’03, signed with the Washington Redskins in 2012. He owns a house in Leesburg, closer to the Redskins’ Ashburn headquarters. But he has the bars and stars of the District flag, the area code 202, the dome of the U.S. Capitol, the initials D.C. tattooed on his left forearm not for show, but because the city is as much a part of him as the skin underneath those images. He’s the one who can speak to groups of kids here — as he has dozens of times since he joined the Redskins — and truly, without risk of being labeled a poser or a fraud, say he has walked where they walk.“I know where they’ve been,” he said. “I know what they’ve been through.”
Brian Orakpo, still rehabbing from a torn pectoral muscle that cost him virtually all of 2012, says winning Defensive Player of the Year is a "very obtainable" goal for him. That'd be nice for him and the Redskins, considering the team needs Orakpo's pass rush and Orakpo is heading into a contract season and needs a big performance and a healthy season. I'm not impressed by this sort of talk, though. Save it for the field, Brian.
RB Jawan Jamison, a 7th round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Rutgers, is no stranger to adversity:
Jamison’s father was killed in a single car accident in the summer of 2010, right before he enrolled at Rutgers. Then, last summer, his mother and biggest supporter, Shanda Davis, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Jamison entered the draft early this year to support his mother, but a 7th round pick is never a sure thing to make an NFL roster. Jamison talks confidently, but Mike Shanahan knows what will be required:
“With running backs and safeties, a lot of times it’s hard to tell until you get into that first game or second game,” Shanahan said. “It’s a very tough position to evaluate until you get the pads on. He’s going to get his opportunity in a short time to show us what he can do. But right now, he’s just trying to learn the system, the blocking scheme, the combinations, so that when he does play in a game, he doesn’t have to think, he can react.”
Speaking of safeties and the draft, the Redskins picked two of them in April, Phillip Thomas in the 4th round and Baccari Rambo in the 6th round. Washington's pass defense was 30th overall last season and was clearly the weakest link on the entire team. The Redskins need Thomas and Rambo to be part of the solution this year, but the move from college to the NFL is, as Shanahan noted above, not an easy one for safeties.
“We’re rookies,” Thomas said after Organized Team Activities at RedskinsPark last Thursday.“We’re just getting into the playbook real heavy, trying to learn everything so we can get that communication down so everybody can be on the same page.”Communicating an NFL defense can be like learning a new language for some rookies, especially with exotic blitz and coverage packages built to counter up-tempo offenses and the rising use of the spread option in the NFL.“All the plays, the different things they’re throwing at us, all the communication, it’s a little slow right now,” Thomas said. “They’re throwing a lot of things at us.”During OTAs, Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris often talks with the rookies. At times the conversations turn to yelling, especially when the players look out of position.
“We just got to go out there. All of us have these great ball skills, it’s going to allow us to make plays,” Rambo said. “Once we get on the same page we’re just going to fly around and make plays and have fun.”
Thomas is trying to win the starting job at strong safety, but veteran Reed Doughty won't give it up easily.
“There are some vet things I can do, being solid in a lot of different situations,” Doughty, said of his knowledge base and comfort level in the Redskins’ defense. “So he’s definitely going to have to come in and earn it.”
“Anytime you’ve been with somebody for a long time and you change little techniques or schemes, it takes some adjusting, I think, on both ends,” seven-year Redskins special-teamer Reed Doughty said. “Coach getting used to what we’ve been taught in the past and how to get us best on the same page, and same with us. Just figuring out his coaching style and finding out exactly what he wants. Keith has done a great job coming in.”It would be difficult for Burns to match Smith’s exuberance during practice — not that it’s necessary. Performance in games is paramount, and the Redskins have significant room for improvement.Their kickoff coverage unit ranked 18th in the NFL last season in opponents’ average starting field position. The kickoff return was 26th.Washington’s punt coverage unit ranked eighth in the NFL (8.2 yards per return), and the punt return unit ranked 17th (9.3). The Redskins also had punts blocked in each of their first two games.