Heading into his rookie season, Reed Doughty knew that special teams would be where he would make his mark in the NFL.
Playing safety? He hoped for a few plays here and there, but significant playing time would have to wait.
"Special teams was going to be my role to begin with, so I just wanted to make sure that when I had the opportunity, I would run with it," Doughty said. "I made my share of mistakes, but I showed that I can make a few plays, too."
The Redskins' 2006 sixth-round draft choice played in 10 games last year and excelled on punt and kickoff coverage, recording 19 special teams tackles.
Doughty was coming on toward the end of the season. Eleven of his special teams tackles came in the Redskins' last four games.
"He has really grown tremendously from about midseason on," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "He took a huge step in the plays he made on special teams. He made significant progress there."
Williams could see that the game was slowing down for the 6-1, 210-pound defensive back.
"You try to present rookies with as many things as you can in training camp," Williams said. "The OTAs and mini-camp practices are so important to rookies, but there is no way that you can present everything that is going to happen to them their first season. They have to go through those things.
"You are starting to see the skills that we saw from him in college. He understands offenses, special teams schemes and he is playing more freely."
After the NFL Draft last year, Doughty arrived at Redskins Park from Northern Colorado, a Division 1-AA college. He led the nation in tackles with 159, tackles per game with 14.45 and solo tackles with 76.
Doughty was listed on the Redskins' depth chart as a free safety. With Pro Bowler Sean Taylor as the starter, he knew it would be hard for him to establish himself on defense.
Doughty earned a roster spot with a solid preseason. He made his NFL debut in Week 2 at Dallas, playing special teams.
In Week 5 against the New York Giants, Doughty served as a nickel defensive back and logged three tackles. Early in the third quarter, he was part of coverage that yielded a 21-yard pass from Eli Manning to Amani Toomer. It was a key third-down play that led to a Giants touchdown as New York won 19-3.
Chalk it up to a learning experience.
The Redskins signed veteran defensive back Troy Vincent the following week to help in the secondary. When Vincent was sidelined with a hamstring injury, backup Vernon Fox saw increased playing time.
Meantime, Doughty kept his focus on improving his game. He was inactive one week, then active the next, which made it tough to get into a rhythm on defense and special teams.
By seasons end, Doughty was a regular participant on game days. He feels he makes decisions quicker on the football field.
"I'm able to see the play and be able to react instead of thinking all the time," he said. "The game has slowed down for me. I don't panic. Athletic ability is what you have, but you have to be able to make decisions quick so you can use that athletic ability."
This offseason, Doughty knows he must continue to excel on special teams while also showing progress on defense.
Special teams might be enough to earn him a roster spot next season, but the team needs quality depth in the secondary.
"I want to be able to continue to contribute to the team and give them a reason to keep me around next year," he said.
Doughty's rookie campaign was made more difficult after his son Micah, born on Aug. 30 the day before the Redskins' last preseason game, developed kidney problems. Micah will eventually require a transplant.
The urgency to take care of Micah is driving Doughty harder than most to secure an NFL future.
"It always drives me--I want to provide for my family," he said. "My family comes first, but that means I need a job. It works hand in hand. I love football. I've enjoyed playing this year, but I focus on my son, also."