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National Football League: Worthington happy to be home, but focused on roster spot

Doug Worthington engages Bills tight end Lee Smith during preseason action Thursday (Aug. 9) at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The defensive end, who was also playing some at tackle, is attempting to make the Redskins 2012 squad after cracking the team’s roster late last season. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

The first NFL game Doug Worthington remembers attending at Ralph Wilson Stadium in his younger days was a preseason affair between his hometown Buffalo Bills and the Washington Redskins.

Little did the St. Francis High School graduate know he would be playing for the Redskins against his beloved Bills on the same field in his first game in Buffalo as a professional. Ironically, it was also in the preseason as the two teams opened the 2012 campaign Thursday, Aug. 6.

”I was going up against a team that I looked up to growing up, so it was pretty special,” said Worthington, who was not a stranger to playing on the home field of the Bills, having competed there during two Monsignor Martin championship games. “It brought back a lot of good memories.”

Worthington could enjoy being back in his hometown for only so long though as the defensive lineman is in a fierce competition for a roster spot with Washington.

He cracked an NFL active roster for the time since being taken in the seventh round of the 2010 draft when the Redskins brought him up from the practice squad for the final two games of last season. Now with his third team in as many years, this may be his best opportunity to make an NFL roster to start a season, but it won’t be easy.

Worthington is taking snaps with the second and third units for what Redskins head coach Mike Shannahan has called a deep defensive line corps.

“Camp has been going really well,” said Worthington, who after being waived by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was picked up by the Redskins on Aug. 6 of last year before joining the active roster on Dec. 20. “I feel like I’m improving every practice. They gave me a great chance. It takes working real hard to play in this league.”

The Ohio State product, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, got to show off those improvements in the first game of the 2012 preseason, a 7-6 win for the Redskins.

The towering 6-foot-5, 311-pound Worthington entered the game late in the first half and played most of the snaps in the second. He recorded two tackles and was more of a factor playing the run with his hulking frame.

He picked up his first tackle of the game on the final play of the third quarter, chasing down Bills quarterback Vince Young who was running from the shotgun formation. He again pounced on Young, who recovered a fumble, for his second tackle with six minutes left in fourth.

“You’ve got to keep working hard and showing improvement,” Worthington said. “Not just one practice or one game is going to determine it. You’ve got to keep playing hard and show the coaches that you’re ready to work and ready to be in that scheme and defense.”

In the defensive struggle, the Redskins yielded only a field goal in the second half while Worthington received most of his playing time. Worthington was happy with the way his unit “got after it,” but was also impressed with the Bills defense, which made one of the most notable free agent signings in the offseason bringing in Mario Williams, a fellow defensive lineman.

“Our defense came out well and did a good job,” Worthington said. “We worked hard hitting each other throughout camp so far, so it was good to go against somebody else.”

Playing in the 3-4 scheme of Washington’s defensive coordinator and former Buffalo Bill Jim Haslett, Worthington bounced around from playing left end to nose tackle.

“With Haslett’s defense, you’re going to do a little bit of everything,” Worthington said. “It’s a great scheme for defensive lineman. It’s fun to line up on the nose and get out there on the tackle. You never know what you’re going to get (from us) if you’re the offense so it keeps them on their toes.”

During warm-ups prior to the game, Worthington saw his former coach at St. Francis, Jerry Smith. Worthington led Smith-coached St. Francis teams to a pair of titles in 2003 and 2004 after transferring from Turner Carroll, which closed. During his senior season, the Red Raiders were ranked 22nd in the nation by USA Today.

“It was great to see him,” Worthington said of his high school coach. “It was great to be back here in my hometown and see some familiar faces in the crowd.”

Though it was the first time he played at Ralph Wilson Stadium as a professional, he’d enjoyed the experience of being on the same field in Monsignor Martin championship games during those title-winning seasons for St. Francis.

“It’s a great feeling, man. There’s nothing like home,” Worthington said. “I’m happy to be back. I’ve played here before so it’s a special feeling to be here again...It’s a blessing. Coming back to a stadium where I played so many games (as a high school player) is always fun.”

During both of those seasons, Worthington’s Red Raiders defeated St. Joe’s teams which happened to feature another professional football player who now adorns a Bills uniform. Thursday’s game reunited Worthington with his former Monsignor Martin rival Naaman Roosevelt, who himself is fighting for a roster spot as a wide receiver and punt returner.

The two exchanged pleasantries before the game, but afterward, Worthington couldn’t help but gloat just a little. Roosevelt did get his revenge over St. Francis as the St. Joe’s senior quarterback led his team to a Monsignor Martin title in 2005, but by that time, Worthington was a freshman at Ohio State.

“I said what’s up to Naaman a couple times,” Worthington said. “I saw him before the game and after the game I talked a little junk. I beat him a couple of times on this field previously. It was good to keep a 3-0 record against him.”

Both players will now share in attempting to survive NFL rosters getting cut down to 80 players on Aug. 28, then again when they go all the way down to 53 on Sept. 2 after each team has played its final preseason game. The Bills next play in Minnesota on Friday, Aug. 17, while the Redskins travel to Chicago for a contest Saturday, Aug. 18.

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