- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sean Taylor is facing jail time. Fred Smoot is stockpiling parkas in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. And Matt Bowen shredded his right knee just eight months ago.

Problems, questions and issues abound for the Washington Redskins’ secondary, which anchored last season’s third-ranked defense and was a big reason the team didn’t finish worse than 6-10. But there is seemingly no concern a slump is in the offing.

“The only concern is that it’s not as loud in the meeting rooms without Fred there anymore,” Bowen said with a laugh. “We’ll be fine. We’ve got a lot of guys that are great football players and that work well together as a unit. I think that’s the best thing about our defense: Not one guy is going to stand out. Everyone is going to feed off of each other and play well.”

As the club yesterday underwent the second of three days of minicamp practices, an egalitarian spirit remained the defense’s calling card and the best argument against the secondary’s fortunes hinging on Taylor’s criminal proceedings.

No one knows whether Taylor will be available, Bowen will stay healthy and rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers will be fully up to speed when training camp opens July31. But big plays last year by Walt Harris, Ryan Clark and even Garnell Wilds — the last of whom helped shut down Randy Moss in the season finale — created expectations that any holes will be ably plugged.

“Last year, if you would have asked me [about this situation], I would have been like, ‘Hmmm. I don’t know,’” linebacker Marcus Washington said. “But I always go back to Garnell. The guy comes in, last game of the season, against Randy Moss … and did a great job. That’s the kind of team we have and want to be known around the league as: If one guy goes down, someone else is going to step up and play just as good or better.”

Taylor’s case, for obvious reasons, leads the list of issues. He will be arraigned Friday, and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office is expected to prosecute him for two felony charges of aggravated assault with a firearm.

It remains likely Taylor will have his case continued through the season, enabling him to play. But several key unknowns remain, including the fact Judge Mary Barzee could reject a continuance. The Redskins thus remain on guard for Taylor’s absence.

Assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams, who emphatically supported Taylor when Taylor was skipping the offseason workout program, didn’t change his tone much yesterday in his first comments since the arrest.

“I’m still a Sean Taylor fan,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of things you all still don’t know behind the scenes that I do know. I’ll just leave it at that.”

If Taylor is unavailable, the club would turn to Clark, Andre Lott, Pierson Prioleau or newly signed Tony Dixon, all of whom have started in the NFL. Said Bowen: “We’d all love to have Sean. But we’re working with the guys we have. That’s how you play football.”

Smoot’s departure to the Minnesota Vikings followed Washington’s decision to hold the line in contract negotiations. Harris, a veteran who recovered from a tricky knee surgery by the end of last season and proved he was still a starting-caliber cornerback, provided the courage to do so.

Williams said Harris has enjoyed a “tremendous offseason.” Rogers, the draft’s ninth overall pick, impressed coaches by practicing Thursday and Friday on an ankle sprain before being held out yesterday. And young players like Wilds and Rufus Brown make coaches think the talent pipeline is strong.

With such options available, the Redskins long only for Smoot’s jovial nature.

“[What] we’re going to miss is how he talks trash in the locker room,” cornerback Shawn Springs said. “We’re going to miss him cracking jokes. But with Walt playing on the other side and Carlos coming in and contributing, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Bowen’s ACL has been healed for some time. He was back for last month’s organized team activities, even though his original target date to return was tomorrow. Neither he nor the club seems to have much lingering concern about the ligament he ruptured in October.

“Our biggest worry with Matt is grabbing him by the collar and holding him back,” Williams said. “We had to make sure he took less reps in practice, and [we] finally had to say, ‘You don’t practice tomorrow.’ Those are fun guys to coach.”

Fun remains the operative word for the secondary, even though three-quarters of the starting unit has reason to believe 2005 won’t be as good as 2004. Players and coaches could be choking on problems, questions and issues, but they see only solutions.

Perhaps Williams summed it up best while discussing linebacker LaVar Arrington, who last season was at once Washington’s biggest star and a total nonfactor.

“The Redskin organization, the Redskin emblem, the Redskin defense, whatever it is, is more important than any one individual,” Williams said. “We proved that last year.”


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