- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

This year, the Washington Redskins are loaded at cornerback.

The Redskins were forced to play the likes of Kenny Wright and Mike Rumph at cornerback for too many snaps last season. Now, they have five corners — Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers and Fred Smoot among them — with at least two years of NFL starting experience from which to choose.

“As the league has become more wide open and as the rules are doing everything in the world to have more explosive plays, the only way you can negate that or attempt to slow it down is to have good matchups at corner,” said Gregg Williams, the Redskins‘ assistant head coach-defense.

Even eliminating long-shot candidates David Macklin and Jerametrius Butler from the competition leaves secondary coach Jerry Gray with a pleasant dilemma: Does Springs, Rogers or Smoot become a backup this season?

Springs and Rogers started the preseason opener at Tennessee, but there’s no guarantee they will start again Saturday against the Pittsburgh Steelers or in the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins.

“It’s going to be tough to make a decision, but it’s a pretty good situation,” said Gray, who won’t pick his starting duo until after the Aug. 30 preseason finale against the Jaguars at Jacksonville. “We have three No. 1 guys. Sometimes in preseason, you’ll see Carlos and Shawn, then you’ll see Carlos and Fred and the next thing you know you’ll see Fred and Shawn. I’m going to be lobbying for nickel, when you can get all three on the field. It’s about how we best match up with the opponent’s receivers.”

The last time Springs didn’t start when he was healthy was in 1993, when he was a redshirt freshman at Ohio State.

Williams endorsed Springs — “When Shawn is playing, we are better,” he said — but still left the door open to bumping down the longtime No. 1 corner to a No. 3.

“Whether it’s in an every-down role or a rotation role, I have a lot of confidence in Shawn,” Williams said.

The 32-year-old Springs, who missed seven of 16 games because of injuries last season, is thankful he has been getting more work as a nickel back and less as a starter this camp.

Jerry’s taking care of me,” Springs said. “Last year was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. I was in so much pain every week [with a sports hernia for the first half of the season]. I don’t take every rep now, so I feel a lot better. I don’t care if I’m not starting. Are you telling me I can make [$7.35] million and play 20 plays a game? Wouldn’t you do that? I’m humble, bro. If I’m backing up, I’m happy. Fred and Carlos are good players and good friends of mine. At some point, eventually I won’t be starting anymore.”

Smoot, back after an unhappy two years with the Minnesota Vikings, already knows that feeling, having been benched for a couple of games in December by coordinator Mike Tomlin, now the coach of the Steelers.

“We won’t know who’s starting until the first two run out there on Sept. 9, but we ain’t in no contest,” said the 28-year-old Smoot, who as a rookie in 2001 kept likely Hall of Famer Darrell Green on the bench. “The only contest we’re in is to win the Super Bowl. We can stay this happy as long as we’re getting W’s. People don’t get disgruntled or selfish until we start getting L’s. When we’re winning, no one cares who gets the glory.”

Rogers, whose 22 NFL starts are the fewest of the five corners, said he’s simply focused on having a better season than he did in 2006, when he struggled as the No. 1 corner in Springs‘ absence.

“The first two will only be out there without the third guy on the first two [downs],” said Rogers, 26. “The third play the nickel corner will be out there.”

But as Smoot jokingly said in reference to Williams‘ plethora of personnel groupings, “Who knows? Maybe Gregg will start the three of us and sit a backer down.”

That certainly won’t happen, but pay attention to who’s at corner for Miami’s first snap Sept. 9. Williams can talk about rotations and matching up with opposing receivers, but like most coaches, he always has picked his starting corners and kept them in those roles, barring injuries.