- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

Washington Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot now realizes how little he knew coming into the season. Fortunately, he was a fast learner.
The second-round pick is nearing the end of his rookie year without having had a bad game. Smoot succeeded Deion Sanders, outlasted Darrell Green and made few yearn for the two eventual Hall of Famers. There have been only two touchdown receptions in zone coverage over Smoot, plus a sprinkling of other catches that he calls "accidents."
None of this surprises Smoot. The master of "Smootsmack" arguably has taken over the locker room at lunchtime with an unending round of barbs that sometimes even bests defensive tackle Kenard Lang.
Smoot is living large not bad for someone who fell from an expected mid-first round draft choice to 47th overall.
"I knew point blank I could play," he said. "It wasn't all about second-guessing myself. I came in knowing I could play."
It wasn't easy fulfilling expectations after a standout two-year career at Mississippi State following two seasons at a junior college. Smoot was considered one of the leading college corners with 10 interceptions in two seasons at Mississippi State and said he studied film in college but relied mostly on natural ability.
"In college, you might dominate everybody and be the all-star, but [Green] let me know there are guys here that are going to beat you," Smoot said. "You're not just going to get up there and bully everybody. You don't show them the same thing twice. You beat them with your feet, your hands. You quick-jam them. You just wrestle with them. It's all about scheme in this league. In college, I just played on athletic ability."
Playing opposite 2000 Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and with Green in nickel packages easily could have made Smoot the weakest link. Opposing passers thrive on rookies, but Smoot's quickness rivals Bailey's. Tied with linebacker LaVar Arrington with a team-high three interceptions, Smoot has 35 tackles and four passes broken up in 11 games after missing two with a bruised leg.
Along with first-round pick Rod Gardner, Smoot has validated coach Marty Schottenheimer's first draft and proved he was worth a first-round pick. Schottenheimer considered taking Smoot in the first before gambling that he still would be available later.
"Fred's upbeat positive nature and energy clearly have enabled him to keep getting better each week," Schottenheimer said. "Look at the numbers. He has done a very good job. There's not been a lot of balls thrown and caught on him."
It seems Smoot is as good as he says, or at least, as good as Smoot constantly tells receivers he is a tactic that has brought several angry responses.
"I know they listen to me," Smoot said. "They don't show their emotions, but if you're in their head they let you know. I like to see if I'm better on this day."
Smoot sometimes lies across a bench during lunchtime, seeking a quick nap to recharge before practice. Too bad he just can't stop jumping into smackoffs with Lang or singing with defensive end Dorian Boose. There's too much fun to waste time sleeping. Smoot still fondly remembers afternoon breaks during training camp when he would catch some sleep in the dorm.
About the only part of NFL life Smoot is still learning is the paychecks that come with five figures twice monthly. He claims to stash most of it in the bank; his biggest purchase has been a car for his mother instead of replacing his own "Smootmobile."
"It's not about spending," he said. "Christmas is here, so I have to do some spending now. I'm not a tightwad. I'm an only child, so I'm kind of stingy."
But not overly modest. Smoot said a prospective autobiography would be titled "Spectacular," and for once, he wasn't bragging.

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