Reed Doughty knew he couldn't play like Sean Taylor.
All Doughty could do was play for Taylor.
Then, it turned out that Doughty was a pretty good player in his own right.
When Taylor, always an imposing presence at 6-2 and 212 pounds, suffered a knee injury in Week 10, it was the 6-1, 209-pound Doughty who replaced him in the starting lineup the following week against Dallas.
When Taylor was tragically murdered at his Miami home on Nov. 27, Doughty suddenly had a permanent spot in the defensive lineup.
The Redskins opened their next game, against the Buffalo Bills at FedExField, with 10 defensive starters as a tribute to Taylor.
Before the game's second play, Doughty ran on to the field as the 11th defender.
For some, it was seen as a symbolic moment.
Doughty stepped in and performed admirably.
Last season, he started the last seven games at strong safety and finished with 49 tackles (27 solo), a half-sack and two passes defended.
In the Redskins' playoff game against Seattle, Doughty added five more tackles, including racing up to stop running back Shaun Alexander for no gain on a screen pass.
He also continued to play well on special teams, logging 16 tackles last season, tied for third most on the team.
After the playoff loss to Seattle, Doughty, a 2006 sixth-round draft pick out of Northern Colorado, disagreed with the notion that his gutsy, gritty play had come to symbolize the 2007 Redskins.
"I don't know--I think a lot of guys are symbols for this team, just in their confidence and leadership ability and the way we worked together," he said.
His coaches and teammates took notice of Doughty's confident play.
"I think Reed stepped up and played well," Fred Smoot said. "Some players step up and seize the moment when they get the chance. He just got more comfortable as time went on.
"Once they rushed him in--the situation was kind of crazy how it happened--he stepped in and didn't try to be anyone else. He just tried to be Reed. I liked that."
Late in the season, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams praised both Doughty and rookie LaRon Landry as a promising tandem.
"They have become a lot more comfortable," Williams said. "As you watch the film, you see the experience and their feel for the game. Young Reed has made some giant strides since his first Dallas start. They have both come a long ways."
Has Doughty established himself as a reliable defender, beyond the special teams player he was in his rookie season?
Time will tell. For now, Doughty views his playing time last season as a learning experience.
But, as Williams has said, proof is in the production every week.
"You always want to take what you learned from the season," Doughty said. "We have a good football team. We didn't go as far as we wanted, but we can go further.
"For me, it's just confidence knowing I can step in at this level, make an impact, play well and help my team."