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the predator

(photo by Brian Murphy)

My next door neighbor is the kind of kid you couldn’t pay to watch football. He’s a high school junior who would much rather play his guitar in his basement than tune in to see who the Redskins are playing, which makes this next statement that much more improbable – this past week he came up to me to inform me that rookie safety Chris Horton is his favorite Redskin.

After getting yelled at by his parents, the kid was seeking refuge at my house, only to discover I was actually at FedEx Field covering the ‘Skins-Saints game. So he sat with my wife and watched the maroon and black defeat New Orleans, thanks in large part to Horton’s two interception, one fumble recovery effort.

“He looks like the Predator,” said neighbor kid. “That hair makes him look like a complete badass.”

And just like that, he actually cares about the Redskins.

For those who may not be familiar with Horton’s background, he’s a 6’1”, 216 lb. safety out of UCLA. The Redskins drafted him in the seventh round (249th pick overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft, meaning he was the tenth and final player Vinny Cerrato selected. You probably had stopped watching the draft long before he was chosen, but don’t feel bad – only three other players heard their names called after Horton was drafted.

So if Horton was able to go from the seventh round to NFC defensive player of the week honors while simultaneously converting new fans after just one start, he’s definitely a player everyone needs to get to know. Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Congratulations on being named the NFC defensive player of the week. Aside from the joke Randy Thomas played on you about the $100,000, how good did it feel to earn the honors after your first career start?

“It felt great,” Horton said. “Just sitting there when I was by myself thinking about it, you know, there’s guys that have been in this league a long time that have never been the NFC defensive player of the week. I feel like it’s a great accomplishment.”

Okay, let’s get it out of the way. Go ahead and give me the party line and downplay your accomplishments last week and say, “My teammates made the plays and I was just in the right place at the right time.”

“Oh, that’s what happened,” Horton said with a laugh. “Obviously if those guys wouldn’t have made those plays and gotten their hands on the balls, then I never would have gotten those picks. I just feel like it was me running to the ball and being in the right spot at the right time with those guys making plays. That’s how I was able to get those picks.”

This is the part where I remind you that this defense set a modern-era record for fewest turnovers in a season. They would get their hands on the ball, and for whatever reason they wouldn’t come away with the turnover. Whether you want to downplay it or not, the fact that you’re converting those turnovers is a big deal.

“Any time you can get turnovers it’s a big deal because you get the ball back to your offense and you get more opportunities for them to score,” said Horton, who only had four interceptions during his collegiate career. “Or, as a defender, if you get your hands on the ball like ‘Los [Carlos Rogers] did today, he almost scored.”

So clearly after such a great debut you should have been the starter this week against Arizona, right?

“No, not at all,” Horton said. “Not at all. I know my role on this team. My role is, if anything happens or when we go into extra packages, then I’m in the game. That’s my role. I’m not really concerned with who starts and stuff like that. I’m just going to keep playing and get better every week. Reed [Doughty] does a great job when he’s out there. To me, he’s the starter.”

Redskins fans are just getting to know you. Can you tell them what kind of player you are and what skills you bring to the table?

“You know, I’m going to hit you,” Horton said. “I’m going to get out there and I’m going to cover tight ends, and I’m not going to allow tight ends to catch the ball in the open field. I’m just a physical football player. I put in a lot of time studying the game of football and try to have the least amount of mental mistakes as possible.”

How the heck did you fall to the seventh round of the NFL Draft?

“Hmmm … ask those guys who said I wasn’t good enough to play,” he said. “I don’t really know. I don’t really worry about it now. Those other teams – they’ve got to be concerned when they see number 48 on film because when I show up, I’m gonna make some plays.”

Other teams beware: the Predator is coming to a city near you. All this film is missing is Jesse Ventura saying, “I ain’t got time to bleed” or maybe we’ll settle for Horton picking off Tony Romo this weekend in Dallas. Either way, this has the makings of a classic.


high stepping for nothing

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Call it the best play of Devin Thomas’ career that never happened.

With just under nine minutes remaining and the Washington Redskins clinging to a 24-17 lead over the Arizona Cardinals, quarterback Jason Campbell rolled out to his right to avoid pressure and connected on a 68-yard touchdown dagger to Thomas, sending the sellout FedEx Field fans into a frenzy.

“We snapped it real fast and I think we caught the defense off guard,” said Thomas, the rookie wide receiver from Michigan State. “I don’t think they were in their set – whatever they was going to be in. The corner, he was kind of stuck, I went around him and I just ran up the sideline.”

What happened next was a scene much more common in high school football than the pros – Thomas was so wide open that the nearest defender was more than 10 yards away. If his quarterback saw him and got him the ball, there was little doubt what would happen next.

“With Jason [Campbell] rolling out everybody sucked up, so I was just waving my hands and hoping Jason could see me,” Thomas said. “He saw me, and I was just hoping I could catch the ball. All I cared about was catching the ball and then I just knew it was over. I looked up at the big screen and didn’t see anybody around me, so I just did what I did, like when I watched the guys back in the day. I started dancing and stuff … until I realized it had been called back.”

The play was called back after offensive lineman Stephon Heyer was flagged for unnecessary roughness because of a blindside hit on defensive tackle Darnell Dockett half a football field away.

“It’s alright, I was just happy we won the game,” Thomas said. “I was hoping that play could have helped us, but thankfully we was able to grind it out and get the ‘W.’”

With the game-clinching scored wiped away, the Redskins were forced to sweat it out a little longer, but still managed to secure their second-straight home victory. Thomas finished the day with one catch for seven yards, one rush for 16 yards and one apology from Heyer.

“I told Devin I was sorry,” Heyer said after the game. “I told him he’s got a lot of NFL left, he’ll make another touchdown.”

In the locker room after the game, I had one final word of advice for Thomas for when he does finally register his first NFL touchdown – get in the endzone first, then have fun. Don’t pull a DeSean Jackson and leave the ball at the one yard line.

“Nah, I’m not gonna do that at all,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I’m gonna make sure I’m in there.”

Here’s hoping Thomas gets to unveil his first touchdown celebration next week in Texas Stadium.


cardinals playlist

(photo by Brian Murphy)

1. “Happy?” by Mudvayne

“He’s not smart enough.”
“He can’t work in the West Coast offense.”
“He’s not Zorn’s guy.”
“He wasn’t the one who got them into the playoffs last year, Todd Collins was.”

That’s just a small dose of the crap more than a few Redskins fans were spewing about Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell after the season-opening loss to the New York Giants. You’d have thought Danny Wuerffel was back behind the center the way folks were bashing him. At that point I really had to question everything – sure, Campbell didn’t look great in New York, but neither did anyone else on the roster. Were people calling for LaRon Landry’s job after he got bowled over by Giants running back Brandon Jacobs? No. But people love a quarterback controversy in this town, so it became the trendy thing to do.

Let’s fast forward two weeks and strangely, none of those twits are anywhere to be found. The offense, still led by Campbell last I checked, has put up 53 points these last two games and, for the first time in a long time, is actually capable of putting together time-consuming drives and connecting for quick strike touchdowns.

Against the Cards, Campbell was nearly perfect, completing 22 of 30 passes for 193 yards and two touchdown passes. He connected on 73 percent of his passes for a downright nasty 112.2 quarterback rating. If that ain’t getting it done then I don’t know what is. Through three games (including the Giants game, mind you), Campbell has connected on 63 of 91 passes for 647 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and no fumbles. That’s 65.6 percent, ladies and gentlemen. That also translates to a quarterback rating of 100.1 for the year. Speaking of QB ratings, Campbell has had a better rating that each of his three opponents – Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Kurt Warner – this season. Looks like the haters are going to have to find someone else to fixate on.

2. “Bombs Over Baghdad” by Outkast

Redskins receiver Santana Moss scored the eventual game winner on a 17-yard touchdown from Campbell in the fourth quarter. That’s noteworthy because it marked the sixth straight contest, including playoffs, in which Moss has caught a touchdown, tying a Redskins record held by Bobby Mitchell, who did it back in 1964.

Through three games, Moss has 19 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns – ranking Moss fourth in NFL in receiving yards. On a team that took something like 12 games to get a receiver a touchdown last year, it goes without saying that Moss’ contributions are greatly appreciated. A healthy Santana Moss will go a long way in helping the continuing development of Campbell and preventing defenses from stacking eight men in the box against running back Clinton Portis and the ground game.

3. “Hey Hey What Can I Do” by Led Zeppelin

With just under nine minutes remaining and the Redskins leading the Cardinals 24-17, Campbell rolled out to his right to avoid the pressure and connected on a 68-yard touchdown bomb to rookie wide out Devin Thomas to all but end the game. After being called for two offensive pass interference calls earlier in the game, Thomas went from the dog house to the penthouse. Just one problem though – the play was called back after offensive lineman Stephon Heyer was flagged for a blindside hit on Darnell Dockett.

Thankfully, the boneheaded play didn’t end up costing the ‘Skins the victory, but it did take away Thomas’ first career touchdown. The stat sheet shows Thomas finished the day with one catch for seven yards, but in an instant Redskins fans saw a glimpse of what the rookie receiver is capable of.

4. “Bring ‘Em Out” by T.I.

Last week, safety Reed Doughty missed the game because of a stomach virus. In his place, rookie safety Chris Horton stepped up big time – hauling in two interceptions and a fumble recovery, earning NFC player of the week honors in the process. This week, the only time anyone noticed Doughty was when he bit on a fake by Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who breezed by him for a 62-yard touchdown in the third quarter. If Doughty wants to avoid the ire of Redskins fans looking for a new whipping boy other than Campbell, he needs to step up his game sooner rather than later.

5. “How Do You Like Me Now” by Toby Keith

These Washington Redskins are a team fans can get behind. They can score points in bunches, clearly illustrated by their offensive production (26.5 point per game) these last two weeks. On defense, the philosophy is always bend, but don’t break. While no one is thrilled that Cardinals running back Edgerrin James rushed for more than five yards a carry, the Redskins (Doughty’s play aside) did a solid job of preventing the big plays the Kurt Warner-led Cardinals are capable of. In fact, the ‘Skins held the Cardinals to 17 points Sunday, ending a streak of 10 consecutive games in which Arizona had scored at least 20 points, the longest in the league.

Redskins defensive back Carlos Rogers recovered a fumble and picked off Warner yesterday. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh forced a fumble for the second straight game. Defensive end Jason Taylor batted three balls at the line of scrimmage. And most importantly, the Redskins are winning the turnover battle (they’re a plus five for the year in turnovers). As long as the Redskins avoid careless mistakes on offense and continue to make the one or two game-changing plays on defense, there’s a chance this team may make some noise this season after all.


shock jock

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Chris Cooley’s nude study habits aside, the talk of the town this week is Vinny Cerrato, and the announcement that the Redskins’ executive vice president of football operations is ESPN 980’s newest radio host.

Starting today, Cerrato will host Inside The Red Zone With Vinny Cerrato, which is scheduled for two hours every Monday and Friday. Apparently, many folks in town feel that Cerrato, whose job description includes personnel decisions, directing the Redskins’ draft, identifying free agency needs and acquisitions, coordinating all pro and college player evaluations, and day-to-day football operations, should concentrate more on football and less on … well … anything else.

Honestly, I don’t get the big deal. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons completed a fantasy football trade on his podcast this week. How great would it be to hear Cerrato on the horn with the New York Jets or the Denver Broncos chatting about possible trade scenarios? If people are willing to listen to Clinton Portis and Brian Mitchell bicker on air, then they’d definitely tune in to hear Cerrato on the phone with player agents working out when would be best to fly in clients for the suddenly vacant punter position. There’s no real way I see this show not being a hit.

Actually, that’s not true. History shows that Washington-based general managers rarely succeed as radio hosts. Fans might not remember, but each of the other three local GMs had a short stint as a radio host, with all three shows failing to catch on in the local market. For those who don’t remember, here’s a recap:

Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden’s radio show never got off the ground because they refused to put any money into it. They showed up in a brand new market in the middle of the night, tried to get by on the cheap using a handful of nobodies off the street and expected a steady fanbase to appear over night. To read more about the show’s failures and terrible ratings, please read the next “kick ‘em while they’re down” piece by Dan Steinberg.

Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld’s radio show never lasted because he continued to bring back the same mediocre cast season after season. Sure, it was offensive, but it didn’t bring much else to the table. If an angry caller ever phoned in with a negative opinion, there wasn’t anyone on the roster capable of coming to Big Ern’s defense.

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee’s radio show failed because … um … have you heard the man? Whenever GMGM appears on the John Thompson Show they refer to him as the “Undertaker.” He might be able to put together a competent hockey team, but apparently personality costs extra. For what it’s worth, I hear his show always did well in Russia.

For more info on Cerrato’s new show, click here.


note: not reggie

(photo by Brian Murphy)

As I stood on the sidelines watching New Orleans “running back” Reggie Bush taunt a rookie punter during his return for a touchdown this past weekend, I almost felt bad for the guy.

Here’s an athlete who was seemingly on top of the world when he elected to forgo his senior season at USC. He was a Heisman Trophy winner and the biggest name on the biggest program in college football, and yet, today he’s forced to grand-stand and pose for personal accomplishments while playing on a winless underachiever.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. At least, that’s what the overall consensus was when the 2006 NFL Draft rolled around and everyone just knew the Houston Texans were going to select Bush with the top pick. Sure, there were some rumblings that Bush and his family might have accepted gifts, cash and other illegal benefits, but so did Shaquille O’Neal, and he went on to become one of the greatest of all time. If Bush went on to accomplish half of what Shaq did, then it would have been a wise investment.

But a funny thing happened along the way – Texans general manager Charlie Casserly met with Bush and decided it was best for his franchise to go another direction. He never said why, but some suggested it was because of the salary demands by Bush and his representatives or possibly even character issues. While no one knows Casserly’s reasoning for sure, the Texans passed on Bush and selected North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams. Bush went second to the Saints.

From there, things went from bad to worse for the Texans – with Casserly being crucified for the pick and Williams seemingly blamed for events that were out of his control, simply being drafted ahead of “Saint Reggie.” Some morons even suggested the move was one of the biggest blunders in the history of the NFL Draft.

And while Williams has gone on to have a solid career, Casserly is no longer with the Texans. He resigned as general manager and now does work as a television analyst, with the “blunder” tag still hanging over his head, even if history shows that wasn’t really the case.

Click here for the full article.

Note to self is a weekly sports column written for HoboTrashcan.


stepping it up

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Last week was like no other for Homer McFanboy.

After attempting to take an in-depth look at the first 21 starts of Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell’s career, I was called a “hater” and accused of having some sort of anti-Redskins agenda.

Even though I started off the entry by reminding folks that I’ve been called a “Campbell apologist” for years, cranky fans automatically assumed I was lobbying for a gig at the Washington Post, where negativity is always encouraged. Next thing I know, Larry Michael accused me of using unnamed sources. The Todd Collins Fan Club and “Cult Brennan” started sending me Evites to their weekly support groups. All because I had the audacity to suggest this was a make-or-break season for Campbell.

So it’s with great pleasure that I remind everyone exactly where my loyalties lie, as I gladly recount the events leading up to JC’s first step towards becoming The Franchise.

With 3:38 left to play in the game and his team trailing the New Orleans Saints 24-22, Campbell headed onto the field for what very well might have been the ‘Redskins final chance at victory Sunday.

Campbell stepped up to the Redskins 33-yard line, immediately recognized that the Saints were planning to “send the house” with a blitz and changed his pass protection at the line of scrimmage. What came next was easily the biggest play of Campbell’s young career – a 67-yard touchdown strike to speedy receiver Santana Moss, who caught the ball in stride for the game-winning score.

“They showed a blitz look, and we’d been working on it all week,” said offensive tackle Chris Samuels, as he walked off the field moments after the win. “Jason made the right check – Jason did it. Jason made the right throw – Jason did it. And Santana made a big play.”

Anyone within earshot could easily hear Samuels’ emphasis on Campbell deserving all the credit for the play of the day. But he wasn’t alone in his praise for the fourth-year quarterback out of Auburn.

“We didn’t do that a year ago,” said center Casey Rabach of Campbell’s change at the line. “This is all new to him in the West Coast offense. For him to make that call it shows his maturity and evolution in this offense.”

While Samuels points to last week’s practice as a large reason for the offense’s preparation in this scenario, others took a broader view.

“There was a subtle thing on the play to Santana Moss, where he stepped up into the pocket,” said middle linebacker London Fletcher of Campbell. “I don’t know if many people saw it, where he was able to avoid the outside rush and buy himself some more time and hit Santana deep. That was something I saw Coach Zorn, him and the quarterbacks working on early in the offseason. It’s something you don’t realize how important it is back during OTA’s and things like that, and that was the difference in the game.”

The game-winning touchdown pass might be the most memorable, but it wasn’t Campbell’s only big play of the game, according to head coach Jim Zorn.

“I think he grew this whole week,” said Zorn of Campbell. “He just continued what he was doing from the first half into the second. He didn’t hit every throw that was there, and I was frustrated because I want him to hit 100 percent of his throws, right?”

Campbell might not have completed 100 percent of his passes against the Saints, but he did complete 24 of 36 for 321 yards. The heat index at FedEx Field was 105, and Campbell responded with a QB rating of 104.1. But most importantly, Campbell was perfect in the fourth quarter – going seven for seven for 160 yards and the previously mentioned touchdown. Here’s what Campbell had to say about the play:

“Santana was the second option on the play,” Campbell told Peter King after the game. “[Antwaan] Randle El was the first. But at the beginning of the play, I saw they had no middle safety over the top, so I knew Santana would probably be open deep if he could get a step on his guy. I knew I was running out of time and I was going to get hit, but I also knew Santana was going to get it if I laid it out for him.”

While one play during week two of the regular season doesn’t automatically launch Campbell into Joe Montana territory, it does show that the guy who was been called everything from “not smart enough” to “ill-equipped to play in the West Coast offense” shouldn’t be discarded just yet.

Sure, there will be growing pains along the way, but if everyone within the Redskins locker room is convinced Campbell’s the best man for the job, shouldn’t ‘Skins fans give him the same benefit of the doubt?


caption this III

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for everyone’s favorite game – caption this.

Twice before we’ve played the game (here and here), and both times we’ve had strong turnouts and solid reader-submitted captions. So let’s keep the streak alive. You might not win any cool prizes, but you’ll be formally recognized for being better than your peers and will get some love here on the blog.

Here’s my humble offering to get folks started:

“You know what? I think we’ve really got a chance to catch the Saints with their pants down today. I should remember to post that on my blog later.”

Think you can do better? Leave a comment below with your best caption.

(And for those individuals who are completely lost, here’s a link that might help explain my caption).

[Update: We have a winner, and his name is Jimbo. “Oh well, at least MY ‘blog’ is bigger than Murf’s.” Thanks, as always, to everyone for playing along.]

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