ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -Stephon Heyer knew the book on him back in July.
Undrafted rookie from Maryland. Has potential, but very raw. Outside shot at making team. Will need a year or two of grooming before he could be trusted to protect the quarterback in a regular-season game.
Now, as December comes to an end, Heyer is the right tackle for the Washington Redskins, a team on the cusp of a playoff berth.
``I never thought in my wildest dreams that I'd be playing for such high stakes,'' said Heyer, who will start his fourth consecutive game Sunday when the Redskins (8-7) host the Dallas Cowboys in their regular-season finale.
l of Fame. When quarterback Jason Campbell was injured, 36-year-old Todd Collins dusted off the mothballs and proved he actually can play quarterback in the NFL.
But the three-game winning streak that has revived the season is even more noteworthy when considering the cast of players with less than two years of experience filling key roles, mostly because of injuries but occasionally because the position was won outright from a veteran. Even fantasy geeks probably can't name them all, and even coach Joe Gibbs didn't initially realize how many there were.
``The first part of the year when we made the final roster, I think everybody made the comment and I didn't really notice it at first, but the roster is younger,'' Gibbs said. ``Stories like that are really good for the future.''
And good for the present. Here are a few highlights that might have gone unnoticed because none of the names include Portis, Moss or Fletcher:
-Anthony Montgomery was a 315-pound rookie in need of a heavy dose of self-motivation a year ago. This year, the defensive tackle has committed himself to being a pro and has been a starter since training camp.
``Look at him - sometimes it looks like he could take over the game when he wants to,'' linebacker Marcus Washington said. ``He's so big and strong.''
-Sometimes lined up next to Montgomery is Kedric Golston, who got his first career safety in last week's win over Minnesota when he tackled Tony Richardson in the end zone. The second-year defensive tackle also recovered a fumble against the Vikings and earlier this season blocked a pivotal extra point in the win over Arizona.
-Yes, rookie LaRon Landry was expected to make a quick impact as the No. 6 overall pick, but he had to switch from strong safety to free safety to fill Taylor's spot. The player who wears No. 30 quickly earned the nickname ``Dirty 30'' after getting mean-looking, after-the-play-was-over personal foul penalties in back-to-back games.
It's an attitude the Redskins know well.
``He reminds you of somebody, don't he?'' defensive end Phillip Daniels said. ``He reminds you of Sean Taylor a little bit.''
-When Landry moved to free safety, Reed Doughty entered the lineup at strong safety. The first game was rough, but the second-year player has gradually won the trust of his teammates. He made a career-high 11 tackles in the victory over the New York Giants.
``We've felt real comfortable with each other,'' Doughty said. ``I think when other guys on the defense feel comfortable with you, they're going to let go and play hard because they know they don't have to worry about how to cover up your mistakes.''
-Rookie sixth-round draft pick H.B. Blades, getting more playing time after the season-ending knee injury to linebacker Rocky McIntosh, has seven tackles in the last two games, more than he had in the first 13 games combined.
Others worth noting are first-year lineman Lorenzo Alexander (three-way player: offense, defense and special teams); second-year cornerback Leigh Torrence (five tackles vs. the Giants, plus first career sack); first-year defensive lineman Chris Wilson (first two career sacks); and second-year kicker Shaun Suisham (27 of 33 field goals).
Of the 10 young contributors, five were undrafted. Only one (Landry) went higher than the fifth round.
``A lot of young guys,'' said cornerback Fred Smoot, shaking his head with a smile. ``That's what coach Gibbs always talks about - you're only as strong as the last man on your roster, and it proves itself in the NFL year after year after year. Somebody's going to go down; you're going to have to depend on guys to step up and make plays. That's how stars are found.''

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