- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004

Washington Redskins director of player development John Jefferson barely had finished tacking the 2004 Pro Bowl list to a bulletin board in the locker room when cornerback Fred Smoot stabbed a bony finger into the names of the NFC’s honored cornerbacks.

“Aaaaahhhhh!” Smoot screamed as he scratched his fingernail down the printout and stomped away.

Hours had passed since Smoot was told he made second alternate, but seeing the names officially posted reopened the wound.

“It’s a conspiracy, man,” Smoot said.

Pretty much everyone at Redskin Park agreed. Although linebacker Marcus Washington became a first-time Pro Bowl selection, more notable was how the rest of the Redskins, particularly several stars on the NFL’s second-ranked defense, were shut out in the always suspicious voting process.

Besides Smoot, linebacker Antonio Pierce (second alternate), cornerback Shawn Springs (third alternate) and particularly defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin (fourth alternate) had legitimate reason to head down to the Loudoun County sheriff’s department and claim they were robbed.

“It’s unfortunate that some of these guys didn’t make it,” said linebacker LaVar Arrington, a three-time Pro Bowl pick who missed 11 games this season with a knee injury. “The hugest disappointment would have to be Cornelius not making it. And I honestly believed it was time for Smoot to make his trip across. We’ve just got to keep cranking.”

Clearly Washington’s poor record (5-9) had a lot to do with yesterday’s results, which included running back Clinton Portis (first), rookie safety Sean Taylor (first) and punter Tom Tupa (second) as other alternates. Pro Bowl voting — a combination of input from fans, players and coaches — often is a simple popularity contest.

But the defense felt its superlative performance should have generated more respect. Besides ranking second, the unit leads the NFL in several categories and has kept Washington in every game despite one of the league’s worst offenses. In fact, the club enters Sunday’s game at Dallas with an outside shot at the playoffs.

“I don’t know what it is,” Pierce said of the voting process. “It is disappointing, though. I don’t know. … Our defense is No.2. A few people on our team got robbed. Grif — if there’s anybody on our team I feel sorry for, it’s Grif.”

In some ways, it isn’t surprising that Griffin was so far down the alternate list. Soft-spoken and labeled an underachiever during four years with the New York Giants, Griffin faced an uphill battle to prove he is one of the NFL’s best players.

Although his PR quest fell short, his on-field performance thrilled. Filling the disruptive interior role that Daryl Gardener did in 2002, Griffin is on pace for nearly 100 tackles (an astonishing total for a defensive tackle) and leads the Redskins with five sacks. Last week he was named Redskins player of the year.

“I could say maybe [should have gotten in], but I didn’t,” Griffin said. “So I can’t control it. That’s behind me. I’ll just look forward to Dallas and try to get a win.”

Washington, 28, wasn’t even among the five names assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams recently pitched for the Pro Bowl (Griffin, Pierce, Smoot, Springs and Taylor), but it’s tough to argue with Washington’s performance in his first year as a Redskin.

The former Indianapolis Colt, who signed a six-year, $22.5million contract in March, has provided a powerful presence on the strong side, where he has proved effective in blitzing, run defense and coverage. Redskins coaches credit Washington with 110 tackles, including nine for losses, and 31/2 sacks.

“He plays as hard as he can play every single snap,” Williams said. “We talk about it: At the end of the ballgame, do they know your name? Do they want to play another quarter? Most guys when they play against Marcus Washington say, ‘I’ve had enough.’ ”

Washington credited Williams’ attacking scheme with elevating his game and said he was proud not to be one of those players who sign their first big contract and then disappear. And though he didn’t issue a Smoot-esque wail on behalf of his snubbed teammates, he, too, was shocked that the NFL’s No.2 defense had just one representative.

“I was very surprised on that,” Washington said. “That was the only thing that was kind of a bummer. We’ve got some amazing players on the defensive side of the ball here. I was happy for me, but at the same time it was kind of a bummer.”

Notes — For the first time in months, every Redskin participated in a full practice. The club, plagued by injuries this year, is expected to have cornerback Shawn Springs (concussion) back this weekend and linebacker LaVar Arrington (knee) more involved. Arrington, however, continues to work mostly with the reserves. …

Quarterback Patrick Ramsey didn’t make much of the news that he had been named the 2005 starter. Although the move gives Ramsey some security, he said, “The truth is, I’m not striving for just security. I’m striving to be really good. The fact that [coach Joe Gibbs is] showing confidence in me is hopefully going to provide me an opportunity to succeed.”

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