- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

With the bye week behind them and seven games to go, it’s all-hands-on-deck time for the Redskins. Or is it all calves on deck? The team could certainly use a healthy Shawn Springs and Jason Taylor in Sunday’s rematch against the Dallas Whatchamacallits, the first of three critical NFC East matchups at FedEx Field.

Springs’ strained calf and Taylor’s wounded one have been objects of much concern in recent weeks. Will the two former Pro Bowlers be back in time to contribute to the stretch drive? And if so, at what level can they be expected to function? After all, this is the second time this season they’ve been sidelined with injuries. Shawn missed the opener with a bruised shin, and Jason sat out two games (and was slowed for several others) with a sprained knee.

Let’s face it: If the 6-3 Redskins are to make the playoffs, the defense is going to have to carry them. The offense has done a nice job most Sundays moving the ball, but it’s averaging only 19 points a game, 26th in the league. Greg Blache’s unit, meanwhile, ranks fourth in yards allowed (272.1 a game) and eighth in points allowed (18.7) - a performance all the more impressive because Springs and Taylor have been in and out of the lineup.

No, in these final seven weeks, it’s all about the “D.” Can it keep games low-scoring enough that Jim Zorn doesn’t have to get too daring with his playcalling? The avoidance of turnovers has been a big key for Jason Campbell and Co. - along with giving Clinton Portis regular running room.

Besides, the Redskins have given no indication they’re capable of winning a shootout. In fact, they have yet to score 30 points in a game. So seeing Springs and Taylor back on the practice field this week should give the whole team a lift.

Still, Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato aren’t counting on anything. That’s why they quickly grabbed DeAngelo Hall when the Raiders stunned the football world by waiving him last week. First and foremost, Hall is Springs Insurance. Should Shawn’s calf keep bothering him, DeAngelo can step in and restore the three-cornerback rotation that worked so well earlier in the season. At the very least, the Redskins will be able to avoid matchup problems like the one that cost them the Rams game (when dime-turned-nickel corner Leigh Torrence, since released, got stuck in man-to-man coverage against Donnie Avery, St. Louis’ second-best receiver).

Best-case scenario: Springs, playing for his next contract, comes back strong; Hall, playing for HIS next contract, regains his Pro Bowl form of two years ago; and the Redskins have a group of corners the equal of any in the NFL.

Worst-case scenario: Springs gets hurt again, Hall remains mired in his Oakland funk and the Redskins lack the manpower to contain the Cowboys’ two oversized wideouts, Terrell Owens and Roy Williams.

The best-case scenario is certainly the more popular one in Ashburn. Asked whether the Redskins’ quartet of cornerbacks was now tops in the league - hey, I just came up with a nickname for them: the Four Corners (apologies to Dean Smith) - Fred Smoot said, “At the beginning of the year, I would have said Dallas’ [secondary] was as good, but they kinda went their separate ways [Pacman Jones to alcohol rehab, Terence Newman to the trainer’s room with an abdominal strain] and we kinda came together.”

Secondary coach Jerry Gray joked that he might go to Blache and suggest changing the base defense to a “dime with four corners.” That isn’t likely to happen, but “if we can get everybody back healthy, it’s a big plus for us,” he said. “We’ve only had three games where everybody’s been healthy. But then, we’re a physical group, and we know guys get hurt.”

Springs more than most. Are you ready for this? This is the fifth time in his 12-year career he has missed at least four consecutive games. In other words, almost every other season, you can count on him to disappear for a month. That’s a lot of DNPs for a No. 1 cornerback making No. 1 cornerback money.

And make no mistake, Springs still has No. 1 cornerback talent. The way he shut down T.O. in Week 4 … there are very few corners who can do that. So the next seven weeks will have an intriguing subplot: If Hall delivers, is this the last we’ll see of Shawn Springs? Is Hall - younger, sturdier - basically being brought in to replace him?

Taylor is in much the same situation. Granted, he did promise to “play out my contract,” which had two years to run, when the Redskins got him in a trade with the Dolphins, but such promises are hardly binding. An injury-filled season at the age of 34 might alter his plans. For that matter, Snyder and Cerrato might feel he’s ill-suited to play the left side, not worth the millions they’re paying him and let him go. (Improbable but not impossible.)

The two ailing veterans have been a bit grumpy lately - and not particularly communicative. A brief conversation with Taylor on Monday, during which he never broke stride, yielded the following crumbs: “It’s been a tough month. I’m going to practice Wednesday, and we’ll see.”

Can’t blame him for being on edge. There’s much at stake these next two months - for the Redskins in general and for him and Springs in particular.

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