ASHBURN, Va. - For Derrius Thompson, it's always been about the numbers.
Thompson, a receiver with the Washington Redskins, hasn't produced the gaudy stats that would make a Redskins fan sit up and take notice.
But his second catch of the year, a 31-yard touchdown grab in Sunday's 35-21 win over the New York Giants, suggests that fans and defenders will soon have to take notice of his numbers.
"Hard work and doing what I'm asked to do in practice has paid off, and when I get a chance to get in, I know what to do. That's the main thing," Thompson said.
Thompson, 24, a soft-spoken Dallas native, has been the victim of the numbers game since he was signed as a free agent three years ago out of Baylor, where he caught 78 passes for 1,088 yards in four years.
Playing behind such receivers as Michael Westbrook, James Thrash, Albert Connell, Andre Reed and Irving Fryar, Thompson became caught up in former coach Norv Turner's loop of getting cut, going on the practice squad and occasionally making the active roster only to be deactivated on game day more times than he cares to count.
"I took a couple of shots as far as confidence," Thompson said. "But I felt as long as I got better every day, I wouldn't be discouraged, because I knew I had the ability to do it. I just had to keep getting better."
During one of those loops, Thompson lost something important, his number 84, which was given to Reed when he signed with the Redskins early last season during one of those weeks when Thompson was released.
"I'll never wear 84 again. It was a pride thing. When I was getting cut, but coming back on the practice squad or on the roster, I was still practicing," Thompson said.
"When I looked in the mirror and I saw 13 [his current number], that was a lot different. I felt like I played differently as a 13 than as an 84."
What was different about 13 for Thompson was that he actually played while wearing the number, albeit on special teams, with which he got into four games last season.
As this season began with a new coach, Marty Schottenheimer, Thompson again figured to languish behind Westbrook, the incumbent starter, and newcomers Rod Gardner, the Redskins' first-round draft pick, and Kevin Lockett, who played for Schottenheimer in Kansas City.
But Thompson worked hard in practice, studied Schottenheimer's complex offense and kept himself sharp on special teams, running back three kickoffs, waiting for his chance.
"Right now, I'm a lot more relaxed. I don't think I'm working or playing any harder. I just feel more relaxed," he said.
"Now, I'm not afraid to make a mistake out there, and I'm more comfortable with the system. Because of that, I'm getting more of an opportunity to play."
His chance came Sunday early in the third quarter. Lockett, off a lateral from Tony Banks, threw a looping pass over the drawn-in Giants secondary, which went for the lateral, to a wide-open Thompson in the end zone.
"It's just a play we've had in the repertoire for a while, and the opportunity to use it was there," Schottenheimer said. "We had it as part of the game plan, and Kevin's done it before. I told Derrius, 'You're going to get your first NFL touchdown.' "
Thompson now figures to get more scoring chances the rest of this season, and could find himself in position to become a starter next year, especially if Westbrook, who has been disenchanted with his diminished role in the offense and who will be a free agent after the season, leaves.
"I just see me continuing to get better and the confidence growing a lot more," Thompson said. "I see myself becoming a really, really good player as long as I continue to work hard and do the things I need to do."
"That [cracking the starting lineup] is the goal. That has to be the goal every year. I just can't come in here and say I just want to make the team. That was my goal this year, and that's why I learned the system so well, because I was coming in to achieve my goal."
Perhaps, then, the numbers will be in his favor.