Covering TEs A Problem … Saturday Cup O’Chiefs

Last Sunday the leading receiver for Minnesota QB Donovan McNabb was TE Visanthe Shiancoe. They connected six times for 58 yards.

In the background of any picture taken of those six catches is Chiefs SS Donald Washington. Behind the receiver is not a good place for a man in coverage to be; it was that type of day for the Chiefs third-year safety.

Don’t take that to mean Washington had a bad day working in the starting defense against the Vikings. Filling in for an injured Jon McGraw at strong safety, he was very productive helping slow down the Minnesota running game and he was credited with five tackles.

“I think Donald’s making progress,” said head coach Todd Haley. “He stepped in and made a bunch of real good plays for us. He’s had some others that he’s got to continue to work on.”

Like pass coverage. Washington had problems sticking with Shiancoe who is one of the better catching tight ends in the league.

“It’s got to be better,” Washington said of his performance. “I learned a lot and I will put that to good use this week.”

If covering Shiancoe was difficult, it’s hard to imagine what kind of chore he faces this coming Sunday when he tries to cover Colts TE Dallas Clark. The Colts have one of the best veteran receivers in the league with Reggie Wayne. They also have one of the best young receivers in the league with Pierre Garcon. And in Clark, they have the type of tight ends that makes life miserable for defensive coverage.

“He’s really smart and he’s able to work through and find the open spots,” Washington said. “It looks like he really knows his stuff.”

In the last three seasons, the only thing that slowed down Clark was injury – that was last year when he played six games before landing on the injured reserve list with a wrist injury. In 2009, Clark caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs. The season before, he had 77 catches for 848 yards and 6 TDs. In 2007 Clark caught 11 TD passes.

With the entire Colts offense struggling without Peyton Manning, Clark has caught 13 passes for 129 yards and a TD.

In preparing for Clark in the Colts offense, is he a tight end or a receiver?

“You have to see him for his abilities and his number one strength is just his playmaking ability in general,” said Haley. “He’s got a great feel for the game. They rely on him heavily and he’s just a great competitor that can hurt you in a number of different ways and you have to account for him.”

CB Brandon Carr said: “I think you have to see him as a receiver on every play. Sometimes he’s blocking, but there’s always the chance he’s going to have the ball thrown to him.”

There’s no question that he will be a factor in Sunday’s game, if only because the Colts will have watched the tape of the Chiefs-Vikings game and gotten an eyeful of Washington in the trailing position. The Chiefs coaches know it’s there, so they are likely to come up with some adjustments for Sunday.

While McGraw appears to have recovered from his shin injury enough to play, but Washington and the Chiefs view this time as his opportunity to show whether he can play in the league or not. It may be his last opportunity, given his status in his third year and not having been able to produce much in his first two years. Just a month ago, he was a game-day inactive in the season opener against Buffalo.

“He’s another third-year player that missed an off-season this year and that slowed everybody down, but especially those one, two and three-year players, missing an off-season could have potentially really hurt a bunch of them,” Haley said. “He’s making progress and he needs to, we just need to make sure that continues.”

The last three years haven’t been the best for Washington. In his final season at Ohio State he was suspended from the team and that was part of the reason he decided to come out a year early and enter the NFL Draft. He was the athlete of the NFL Scouting Combine, putting up impressive numbers during some of the drills. During his first two seasons, Washington had trouble getting on the field and once he got there, he had trouble staying there. After his rookie season he was moved from cornerback to safety, a spot he seems more comfortable playing.

There’s no doubt in his mind, that the chance to start and stay on the field right now is his chance.

“You get the chance to play, you have to produce,” Washington said. “If you do, you keep playing. If you don’t they find somebody else.”

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