- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

It seemed like old times at Redskin Park yesterday: Fred Smoot delivered one-liners, and coach Joe Gibbs cracked up at the jokes.

There was, however, a seriousness beneath the smiles as the Washington Redskins announced the return of the cornerback to the club after two ugly years with the Minnesota Vikings: Gibbs and Smoot see the reunion as a chance to fix mistakes.

“A lot of us make mistakes in life,” Gibbs said. “I told Fred, ‘It’s not often in life where you have a chance to make up for it.’ That’s what we’re doing here. It was a bad feeling I had right after we let Fred get out of here. I took a lot of heat in town, deservedly so. Fred’s a Redskin. This is where he belongs.”

Smoot was starting for the Redskins soon after the team chose him in the second round of the 2001 draft, and he is grateful to be back. Smoot reached agreement Saturday on a five-year contract with the Redskins that includes a $2 million signing bonus.

“I thought it was a mistake to leave,” Smoot said. “I feel like this is my home. It’s like moving back into that old room in my mama’s house. I’ve been smiling since last night. It has nothing to do with the contract. It has to do with the fact that I’m comfortable. I can play my game and be myself again.

“Don’t many people get a second chance to make something right. I got a second chance to make it right.”

Little went right for Smoot after the Redskins failed to match the Vikings’ six-year, $34 million offer in March 2005.

Smoot showed up for Vikings training camp with an injured neck, hurt a knee in the intrasquad scrimmage and missed most of preseason. That October, Smoot was one of the organizers of the infamous “Love Boat” cruise that led him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor of disorderly conduct, an incident he and Gibbs discussed at length before he signed. He also fractured a collarbone, lost his starting job and was held out of the season finale after apparently missing curfew.

Last year wasn’t much better. Smoot’s stepbrother was killed in a car accident, Smoot was benched again and he broke his jaw in a car wreck, an accident that caused him to finish the season on injured reserve.

“Every time I got going, something happened,” said Smoot, who picked off only three passes in two years with the Vikings after recording 16 during his four years with the Redskins. “I think it a lot had to do with the stuff that was happening off the field. I never got comfortable with that place. I always had something on my mind. I always felt like the stepchild. It humbled me a lot.”

It takes a lot to humble the brash Smoot. However, he says he has changed.

“I am going to live every day like my last and not take anything for granted,” Smoot said. “You can’t get glass without it going through a lot of changes, and then it comes out smooth. I am that smooth part right now. I know what I can do here. I have done that here. I feel like more than just a football player here. There I felt like just a football player, just another guy.”

Gibbs and Smoot both talked to No. 1 cornerback Shawn Springs, whose absence for half of last season because of injuries was a major factor in the defense’s plunge from a No. 9 ranking to 31st.

Gibbs said that while the Redskins are still seeking to renegotiate Springs’ $7.35 million salary cap number, the soon-to-be 32-year-old isn’t going anywhere. And Smoot’s arrival also might inspire Carlos Rogers, a first-round draft pick in 2005 who slumped last season.

“Last year, we felt we got hurt with our depth at corner,” Gibbs said. “You don’t want to make the same mistake twice.”

Once Smoot signed, the weekend visit by free agent corner Travis Fisher became perfunctory. He won’t be back. Neither will massive offensive lineman Leonard Davis, a Texan who opted for the Dallas Cowboys over Washington. That leaves the Redskins still trying to fill the left guard vacancy created when Derrick Dockery signed with the Buffalo Bills on Friday.

“There’s somebody that’s going to fit in that spot, whether it’s a young guy on our team or someone we don’t know about right now,” Gibbs said.

There are few starting guards available in free agency. Re-signed backup Mike Pucillo has the job for now, but the Redskins could trade down from the sixth pick in April’s draft and use an acquired choice on a guard.

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