- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Washington Redskins‘ defense, even with a performance that wasn’t dominating, continued its road back to excellence Sunday.

The unit ranked among the league’s best in 2004 and 2005 but slipped badly last season. The defense followed a solid preseason with a good performance in the Redskins’ season-opening 16-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins at FedEx Field.

“We played the way I thought we would,” assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams said. “I was super-happy with 23 tackles from [new starting linebackers London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh]. We laid the wood. We ran fast. We challenged the receivers. Our four-man rush moved [Dolphins quarterback Trent Green] off the spot. He never was set when he dropped.”

The Redskins ranked as the second-worst defense in the league last season but stood 11th overall before last night’s games, fourth against the run and fourth on third down. The Dolphins totaled 17 first downs and 273 yards and put together two long scoring drives, but they finished just 4-for-13 on first down and averaged just 3.3 yards.

“We played well enough to win,” cornerback Shawn Springs said. “Guys were out there running and hitting and trying to get to the ball. We’re going to have to keep continuing to get better.”

Defensive end Phillip Daniels, wearing a walking boot on the right foot he sprained against the Dolphins, also was encouraged but said it takes two or three games for a defense to get a true sense of itself.

“We made some mistakes, but for a first game not knowing what the other team’s throwing at you, we did a pretty good job,” Daniels said. “We took preseason seriously. We didn’t want to come into the season starting slow. All the guys and the coaches did some things differently. It showed in our first game.”

Springs didn’t express any disappointment that he did not start even though he had started all but six games when healthy in his previous 10 seasons. Williams started Fred Smoot and Carlos Rogers and used the more physical Springs in the slot in passing situations.

“I come in nickel, make my couple of plays and call it a day,” Springs said. “If that gives the team the best chance to win, then I’m cool with it. Me, Smoot and Carlos have a great relationship. If they’re starting and I’m the nickel, it’s fine with me.”

Coach Joe Gibbs said the Redskins had some concerns about Springs’ health but declined to elaborate.

Springs not starting wasn’t the only change. Anthony Montgomery started ahead of Kedric Golston, a regular last season, at right defensive tackle.

“I worked a lot with the first team all week, but we still weren’t sure [who was starting] until the end of the week,” Montgomery said. “Hopefully, I did well enough to continue to be in there with the starters. If the linebackers are moving free to the ball, that means we’re occupying linemen.”

Although Montgomery wasn’t credited with a tackle, Williams said, “Anthony was very, very solid versus the run.”

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