- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

CARLISLE, Pa. Participating yesterday in his first day of Washington Redskins training camp, rookie cornerback Fred Smoot had work to make up, a chip on his shoulder "the size of the White House" and some "size 15" cleats.
OK, his cleats weren't really that big. But they might as well have been, as the verbally dexterous Smoot pointed out, because the second-round draft pick was wearing Deion Sanders' No. 21 jersey and essentially replacing the future Hall of Fame player in the lineup.
"Hey, I've got Shaq shoes, you know what I'm saying?" Smoot said through his permanent grin.
But there was little if any smiling for Smoot's draft classmate, wide receiver Rod Gardner. The first-round pick remained in Atlanta while he and the Redskins continued to stare each other down over whether incentive clauses should be included in his contract, league sources said.
The basic structure of Gardner's five-year, $7.6 million deal remained in place for a fifth day. Gardner refused to sign until the Redskins joined the NFL teams that drafted first-round receivers David Terrell, Koren Robinson and Santana Moss by adding incentives to the pact.
Terrell (picked eighth by Chicago), Robinson (ninth by Seattle) and Moss (16th by the New York Jets) all received incentives (goals with straight payouts) and escalators (goals that trigger higher future salaries). Gardner, the 15th pick, had escalators but no incentives.
Contrary to a published report, the Redskins were not prepared to follow a strategy they used with LaVar Arrington last year threatening to take signing bonus money off the table if Gardner continued to hold out sources close to the situation said. Such a move could turn a fairly normal holdout ugly, sources said, in part because agent Joel Segal is a veteran unlikely to back off easily. Segal was scheduled to fly to Carlisle this morning to begin face-to-face negotiations, sources said.
There also was a key difference between Gardner's holdout and Arrington's. Where Gardner had a market value offer without certain elements he claimed were important from the start, Arrington's talks soured at the last minute even though he had a sizable offer. Arrington signed rather than risk owner Dan Snyder lowering his $10.75 million signing bonus by $100,000 for each additional day he missed.
The Redskins, sources said, felt firmly that Gardner's tiered signing bonus of $5.1 million and total value were generous for a player who has yet to play an NFL down.
Meanwhile, Smoot appeared aggressive and in fairly good shape after signing a four-year, $2.8 million contract that included a signing bonus of about $1.35 million. He said he didn't feel behind because the staff hadn't installed any new schemes since June's practices, and teammates said he looked only a little rusty.
One part of Smoot's game that wasn't rusty, of course, was his incessant trash-talking. An only child who recalls endless conversations with himself, Smoot continued to display the type of confidence that can only be compared with that of Sanders, whose No. 2 jersey at Florida State also was worn by Smoot at Mississippi State.
"Yeah, [Smoot]'s a talker," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "There's nothing wrong with that. I played alongside another talker last year. I'm used to it now. Whatever he wants to do, as long as he's making the plays, we can deal with it."
Smoot said he took No. 21 only after Sanders offered it during a conversation Friday, the day the seven-time Pro Bowl selection retired. Explained Smoot: "If he hands the torch to me, I'm going to keep the flame burning.
"He knew I wanted to learn from him, basically let him take me under his wing," Smoot added. "But like he told me, you've got Champ Bailey there, you've got Darrell Green. You've still got two of the best, so there's no reason you can't get to your peak early."
Aiding Smoot's quest is the desire to show the NFL that he deserved to be picked in the first round, where scouts had him rated. Smoot's stock dropped after the Associated Press reported that he was charged with marijuana possession and the charge was dropped; in reality, he was questioned in an incident but never charged.
Draft day found Smoot dejected in a Jackson, Miss., sports bar, where friends and media had gathered with him to watch his future unfold. The difficulty of that day, in which he gradually moved farther and farther into the room's corner until the 45th pick finally came, ultimately built his inner strength, which now pairs with his physical gifts to make him one of the Redskins' top prospects.
"At first, I was really down about it, but then I just looked at reality," Smoot said. "I still got drafted. Now it's your chance to really go out here and play some football, what you wanted to do anyway. It's true you lost a lot of money, but it ain't all about the money. I love to play this game, and I'm going to play this game."

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