Redskins rookies Smith & Jones made suddent impact
FROSTBURG, Md. (AP) _ Greg Jones was one of the last players to leave the field. Derek Smith came off even later.
Just two days after making solid debuts for the Washington Redskins, the two rookie linebackers were working overtime after Monday’s practice.
``They all need the extra work,″ linebacker coach Dale Lindsey said.
With less than four weeks to go to the regular season, there’s little time for reward for the two players who have impressed coaches with their skills and speed almost since draft day. Though their styles and backgrounds are vastly different, Smith and Jones together have eased the worries for a team that desperately needed a boost at linebacker.
In Saturday’s exhibition opener at Tampa, Smith had a sack and a team-high five tackles in a starting role on the weak side. Jones, backing up Ken Harvey on the strong side, had an even better game for a defense that didn’t allow a touchdown.
``I think that was a pretty good outing for rookies,″ Lindsey said. ``I hope it wasn’t one-game luck.″
The Redskins had a starting job open following the release of the overpaid and inconsistent Rod Stephens in January, and there was no depth to speak of. The coaches went into draft day hoping to find a couple of players who could make an immediate impact; so far, their choices look very promising.
Of the pair, Smith has been the biggest surprise. He was a late bloomer at Arizona State who wasn’t even invited to the NFL pre-draft combine. It turned a few heads when the Redskins chose him in the third round, and it turned quite a few more when the team moved Marvcus Patton to the middle and penciled Smith in as the weak side starter after just a few weeks of spring practice.
``That’s really surprised me, to come in and have this opportunity to come in and work with the No. 1s and possibly start,″ Smith said. ``You can’t ask for anything better than that.″
Jones, the second-round pick from Colorado, was put on the more difficult strong side to be groomed as Harvey’s successor. Harvey’s four-year, $11 million contract expires at the end of this season.
``We like him where he is, but we feel comfortable if we ever get in a bind, we could put him over on the weak side,″ Lindsey said.
Both players are fast and smart _ their resumes are flush with academic honors _ but Jones is a fast Harvey-type rusher, while Smith’s strength so far has been pass coverage. As with any linebacker, it’s all in the footwork.
``They’re two different style guys,″ Lindsey said. ``Greg has a longer stride, kind of like an antelope. Derek has a shorter stride, more like a deer.″
Although both hail from the Rockies, Smith and Jones are an unlikely tandem. Smith was raised a Mormon in American Fork, Utah, where he spent his time ``hunting, fishing and camping″ while attending junior college in his home state before going to Arizona State.
Jones, who sports a bandana and an earring, was raised in Denver. Though his childhood wasn’t particularly difficult, he has made it a point help others in the city through his drug and alcohol lectures to elementary school students.
``You just want to give back to the community,″ Jones said. ``Once I get established here, hopefully I’ll be doing the same thing.″
Smith and Jones do have some things in common. For instance, neither is sprouting a beginner’s ego. Smith called his performance in the Tampa game ``average or below,″ while Jones said he was ``OK″ and made a lot of mistakes.
``The competition is just so great,″ Smith said. ``That’s been the toughest thing so far. Guys are faster, stronger; the game just moves a lot faster.″
Notes: Thirteen players missed all or part of practice Monday due to injuries. Here’s the latest on the wounded: A decision is expected Wednesday to determine whether running back Stephen Davis will need surgery on his sprained knee ligament. He’ll be out two-three months if he does; several weeks if he doesn’t. ... Defensive tackle Marc Boutte felt something pop in his knee early in practice. The trainers say it could be a cartilage injury, but they’ll know more Tuesday. It’s the same knee that caused him to miss six games last year. ... An MRI on defensive end Rich Owens’ pinched nerve was negative, but he’s still bothered by it. It was uncertain whether he would practice today. ... Defensive end Dexter Nottage was to undergo an MRI late Monday on the back problem that slowed him most of last week. ... Linebacker Twan Russell resumed practicing after missing the Tampa trip with a viral infection.