He ticked off longtime teammate Phillip Daniels by skipping all of the "voluntary" offseason work at Redskin Park. He caused whispers in the locker room when he was scratched from last week's season opener with a strained calf. But none of that negativity affects Shawn Springs nor his status as the Washington Redskins' No. 1 cornerback.
"Until [the calf] happened, this was the best I had felt since maybe Year 6, 7," said the 12th-year veteran, who trains each offseason in Arizona. "I look at it as a challenge every year when I read the clippings: 'He's getting older. He's lost a step.' But I came in two steps faster than everybody else. Me losing a step I can still run with anybody. There's no reason for me to play and not help the team and go out there and get hit on my leg and miss five more [games]. My goal's bigger than the Giants."
Springs was irritated by the criticism of his absence from Ashburn, Va., every spring.
"How long have I played?" Springs said. "How'd I look in the preseason? Phil was pissed I wasn't here. So what? The bottom line in the NFL is [expletive] producing. That's all that matters. If I stayed here and I looked like [expletive] would that be better?"
Not for the Redskins.
"People get caught up in Shawn not being here during the offseason, but he's never been here since I've been here, and he's produced," cornerback Carlos Rogers said.
Cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray understands Springs because he didn't spend the offseasons in Los Angeles back when he was a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Rams.
"Once a guy has been successful doing it one way, he doesn't want to break the routine," Gray said. "People make out like Shawn doesn't like the organization. Shawn loves the organization. Shawn didn't miss any time until last week. He had a good preseason and did everything we asked. If you're dominating at corner, you're dominating at corner."
That was the case in 2004, his first year in Washington, when Springs became the first defensive back to lead a team in interceptions and sacks. The next year, Springs started all but one game as the Redskins ended a five-year playoff drought. But the past two seasons have been difficult. He missed the first five games of 2006 with a sports hernia, another with a hamstring and the finale with a sprained shoulder.
Springs stayed healthy last year, but his father, former Dallas Cowboys running back Ron Springs, fell into a coma in October because of complications from surgery to have a cyst removed. Earlier in 2007, Ron Springs underwent a kidney transplant after years of ill health.
"Trials and tribulations make you stronger," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "There's only one way to be battle-tested, and that's to go through a battle. Shawn's [gone] through those battles. He knows how to do his job and how to separate his job from the personal stuff."
Springs' trouble continued into the offseason. His second marriage broke up, separating him from all three of his children. His stepmother needs a second breast cancer surgery. All of this had Springs contemplating retirement, but he couldn't walk away from the game he loves or a contract that pays him $7.5 million this season.
"Obviously with the things that happened with my dad you know that life's not guaranteed," Springs said. "I really don't trip on [tension with the front office] anymore. For me, it's about doing what I love and having fun. I love football and the Redskins. I'm under contract. I can't complain right now. My coaches take care of me."
The coaches used Springs at safety at times during training camp because of injuries at that position, but he also knows they were thinking ahead. After all, not many corners remain effective at 34. Springs, whose contract runs though 2009, isn't sure he will play for the Redskins next year since a move to free safety wouldn't fit unless LaRon Landry switched back to strong, where he started for most of 2007.
"At this point I can't worry about that," Springs said. "Maybe I'll be out of here, but with the way I feel and if I have the year I think I'm going to have with six, seven, eight picks, everything else will take care of itself."