- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

As soon as rookie Fred Smoot showed he was ready for the NFL, the Washington Redskins appeared to have one of the league's best groups of cornerbacks. Now, with the group playing at its highest level, the title fits better than ever.
Young Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey, Smoot and future Hall of Famer Darrell Green have elevated their performances in recent weeks and brought a new dimension to the Redskins' rapidly improving defense. Once the league's worst-ranked unit, Washington's defense now is 19th overall and 16th against the pass.
Most Redskins defenders agree that the trio is reaching its lofty potential. Smoot calls its current play "perfect." And coach Marty Schottenheimer, who frequently compares them to the standout corners he coached in his previous 141/2 seasons, believes that the threesome's play "is certainly the equal" of any previous group he has overseen.
"We've had great corners," Schottenheimer said yesterday. "We've certainly been fortunate in that regard. [The current performance is] certainly at least to that standard."
The key to Bailey's play in recent weeks has been Schottenheimer's decision to have him follow the opposition's best receiver all over the field. The 2000 Pro Bowl selection gave up some completions and even three touchdowns in the season's first half, but in man-to-man situations he has shut down Carolina's Muhsin Muhammad, Seattle's Darrell Jackson, Denver's Rod Smith and Philadelphia's James Thrash.
"I love it," Bailey said. "That's the kind of exposure I need. I want that number one guy. If you take that guy out, like I know I can, that just takes a lot away from an offense."
Smoot, meanwhile, has healed an injured lower leg and returned to the form he showed in the season's first few weeks. And Green has continued to play inspired and aggressive in the last of his 19 NFL seasons. Together, the threesome has impressed.
"Oh man," linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "Smoot is unreal. Bailey is unreal. Darrell Green is still unreal. Which is unreal to have three unreal cornerbacks. This is getting exciting."
Their performance, in turn, gives the defense myriad advantages. They range from not having to resort to double-teams (which frees up defenders to stop the run and to blitz) to being able to play bump-and-run coverage (which disrupts offenses' timing) to being able to play more aggressively in general.
The key advantage, according to linebacker Robert Jones, is the ability to play zone and man-to-man schemes with equal effectiveness. Jones says that was the constant with each of the standout cornerback pairs with which he previously played Dallas' Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith, St. Louis' Todd Lyght and Ryan McNeil and Miami's Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
"It all depends on how you want to attack people and what people are doing to you in games," Jones said. "Can you better defend them going man or in zone? It's all predicated on what they like to do on offense. If you're a zone team and an offense runs their best plays against zone, you're going to have a tough day. But if you can take your corners and play zone or if you can take your corners and play man, then you'll have a better chance of winning."
It should be noted that Washington isn't running more schemes these days. In fact, the Redskins have trimmed their defensive playbook to allow individual athleticism to play a bigger role. In general there has been more man-to-man coverage, but zone still has been mixed in to keep opponents off guard.
The trio's ability to shut off receivers in man-to-man situations played a major role in last weekend's stifling of the Philadelphia Eagles. The defense was able to focus on stopping the run and containing quarterback Donovan McNabb, with Arrington specifically shadowing the agile passer.
This week a similar plan would appear suited to the Dallas Cowboys' fourth-ranked rushing offense and rookie Quincy Carter, a mobile quarterback with just a 14.6 rating.
Schottenheimer didn't reveal the team's strategy but did say: "I would think that we're probably going to continue to do the things that have served us well to this point."
The corners will be ready.
"Definitely," Bailey said. "You can line any of us out there, and we'll do a real good job."


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