- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

Don’t start talking about Champ Bailey.

That’s the message coming out of the Washington Redskins organization following last week’s 28-3 preseason loss at St. Louis, where the club’s cornerbacks didn’t have a good night against the Rams’ potent offense.

St. Louis receiver Torry Holt caught seven passes for 143 yards, the most by any NFL player this preseason. Fellow starter Isaac Bruce added two catches for 17 yards. In several instances, it was Washington’s starting corners, Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot, who were getting smoked.

But Springs, Smoot and assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams offered a variety of defenses yesterday for the seeming lack of defense. The trio isn’t the slightest bit concerned about critics who cite the loss of Bailey, the four-time Pro Bowl pick who was traded for running back Clinton Portis last spring.

“They’ve been saying that since we got C.P.,” Smoot said. “We’re going to be real good in the secondary. All they’ve got to do is be patient and wait.”

The biggest reason Washington’s coverage appeared deficient, according to Williams, was that “you could have baked a pizza at times on the pass rush.” The coach said he deliberately toned back pressure and used inexperienced rushers to gauge how several young players would perform in a tough spot.

Under particular scrutiny was rookie safety Sean Taylor, who played with such precocious talent through three exhibitions that he was beginning to get a swelled head. Getting turned around a few times by the “Greatest Show on Turf” (though Taylor did recover to intercept a pass) punctured the rising star’s ego.

“The thing he learned the other night was to trust his coach a little more,” Williams said. “Those great ones are a little bit full of themselves to where they know everything. What was fun for me was to watch him go to [safeties coach] Steve Jackson on the sideline and say, ‘Teach me something else, Coach.’ He needed to get back to that.”

Starting at right end was Ron Warner, a young player Williams wanted to see against first-stringers. Getting quick hooks — before St. Louis scored its first touchdown — were left end Renaldo Wynn and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin. And pressure from the linebackers and defensive backs was kept to a minimum.

So don’t blame Springs and Smoot, according to Williams.

“Corner play and pass rush work hand-in-hand,” Williams said. “If people want to place the heat on the corners in that game, I go into the [film] room and place the heat on pass rush. That’s where your eyes need to be, to see how long the routes are going down the field.”

Meanwhile, the schemes, as they have been all preseason, were somewhat of an issue. Washington ran a lot of zone against what Smoot called St. Louis’ “zone-beaters.” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and Williams continue to show little of their regular-season strategy, hoping to catch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers off-guard in the Sept.12 opener.

Also, the cornerbacks conceded they weren’t exactly fired up to play another exhibition in this seemingly never-ending preseason.

“You’re going to go in [saying], ‘I don’t want to make myself look bad,’ ” Smoot said. “But you’re not going to go all out to the point that ‘I’ll make this play even if means me getting hurt.’ And that’s how you make plays, by going all out. You’re not going see too many people go all out, unless it’s [on] the second team, third team.”

Said Springs, an eight-year NFL player: “I’ve played in 40-something preseason games. It’s more getting back familiar, working on my own technique and improving myself. For most guys, as they get older, they work on improving themselves. Then when the first game [occurs], we focus on how to play that opponent.”

Though each excuse for the corner play was logical and legitimate, the issue seems destined to be discussed all season. For instance, although the team generated no pass rush against the Rams, there’s still some question whether the Redskins will generate a pass rush at all this year — or whether if they do, it will be with frequent blitzes, leaving potentially overmatched corners on an island.

Bottom line? No one knows for now. The regular season, just 10 days away, will determine whether the Redskins adequately replaced Bailey.

“[The critics] came out the first two games asking where the offense was,” Smoot noted. “[The offense] had a good game [Aug. 21 at Miami]. Now they’re wondering where the defensive backs were. We had a bad game. I’m wondering who they’ll be talking about next. I say wait until the players are full go before you really judge them.”

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