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In Second Year, Heyer Eyes a Higher Level


It was the moment when Stephon Heyer knew he belonged in the National Football League.

In mid-December last year, Heyer matched up against Michael Strahan of the New York Giants in a pivotal NFC East game at Giants Stadium.

Heyer held his own against Strahan, who finished with five tackles and just one quarterback pressure.

After the game, Strahan paid a high compliment to Heyer, saying that he would develop a "book" on the rookie offensive tackle for the next time.

Now it appears there will be no next time. Strahan, a 15-year vet and seven-time Pro Bowler, has informed the Giants that he intends to retire this offseason.

Heyer called his performance against Strahan one of his "most memorable moments" in football.

"I watched [Strahan] growing up as a kid when he was making sacks and making a name for himself," Heyer said. "I'm glad I had a chance to go against him."

Heyer started the Redskins' final four games at right tackle last season, plus the Wild Card playoff game at Seattle.

This offseason, the 6-6, 325-pounder must take a back seat now that 10-year veteran Jon Jansen is back in the lineup. Jansen suffered a fractured ankle in Week 1 last season. Todd Wade and Heyer took turns at right tackle most of the year.

Heyer has accepted that he enters the 2008 season as a backup.

"It's good to see Jon and Randy [Thomas] back out there playing hard after the injuries they had last year," Heyer said. "It gives us--the backups--something to look forward to, [in terms of] playing to their level."

Asked about his role, Heyer said: "I'm here to contribute any way I can. If I'm a starter, then that's what I'll do. If not, I'll wait my time and I'll be ready to go if someone goes down [with an injury]."

A year ago, Heyer was a long shot to make the roster. An undrafted rookie out of Maryland, he joined Thomas daily at Redskins Park in the off-season workout program and made strides, catching the eye of offensive line guru Joe Bugel.

Heyer started four preseason games at left tackle in place of an injured Chris Samuels. Then Jansen went down in Week 1 and Heyer stepped in at right tackle.

Heyer spent most of the season as a backup--until December when he replaced Wade. Including the Seattle playoff game, the Redskins went 4-1 with Heyer starting at right tackle.

"Stephon Heyer was a total surprise [last year]," Bugel said. "We beat him to death and he got better and better and better. He is respected by the team right now because he is a good worker in the weight room. He is one of the strongest guys we have right now.

"If you look at his legs, last year they were up and down. Now he has some ripple in his calves. He has come a long way. That kid is going to be an excellent football player."

With the way Heyer played down the stretch, it appeared that his time had come.

He welcomes a little more seasoning, though.

"My confidence level has definitely increased since last year," he said. "I'm able to go out there and do things I wasn't able to do last year. I see more. I get used to the looks and the speed of the game, now that I have a year under my belt."

And he continues to work out with Thomas.

"Randy is always in my corner," Heyer said. "He's always helping me. He knows how to take that weight room training and apply it to the field."

Asked about Heyer, Thomas was quick to joke about his protégé.

"Stephon Heyer--who is that? I see Jon in there at right tackle," Thomas said with a smile.

Seriously, Thomas replied: "He's coming along. He's a young guy and he really stepped in and did some great things [last year]. But he still has a lot to prove. I don't give him credit yet."

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