- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

Fred Smoot had seen enough front-office decisions to project how the Washington Redskins would solve last year’s problem of paying starter money to four cornerbacks.

His conclusion didn’t include his second departure from the team.

“I have a good feel for the organization,” he said. “I would have known if something was going to transpire.”

Something did transpire: the release of the oft-injured Shawn Springs and the re-signing of midseason addition DeAngelo Hall.

Despite finishing the season fourth on the depth chart - he played only six of 67 snaps in the Week 15 loss at Cincinnati - and carrying a $4.15 million salary cap number, Smoot is back for a seventh year with the Redskins. He’ll work behind Hall and Carlos Rogers, but he’s excited about possible playing time at safety.

Because many offenses use three-receiver formations, Smoot will be on the field. And because only four safeties are likely to make the team, Smoot also will play there in case of injury or when defensive coordinator Greg Blache wants to give opposing offenses a different look without changing personnel.

“I’m very pleased and proud that Fred’s willing to try [safety] and take that on because that’s not easy,” Blache said. “It’s a whole different perspective. Fred realizes that at his age and [stage] of his career that he can add some years to his career if he can go inside and play safety when he loses a step at corner.”

Indeed, Smoot’s career is heading into a new chapter. He’s 30, no longer a starter and, with Springs gone, the oldest cornerback in camp.

“As crazy as he is and as much foolishness as he comes up with, he’s also a fine leader,” Blache said. “Behind all that clowning and stuff, he’s a guy that keeps guys loose, but he also keeps guys heading in the right direction on the field.”

Said safety Reed Doughty: “There are some people who talk a lot and it gets old, but Fred doesn’t get old. He’s always got a joke. He’s really quick-witted. I don’t have those kinds of jokes. He can sit there for 10 minutes and just tear people up.”

Smoot’s vocal personality - he left the field Thursday morning singing - remains a positive. Even when he was a rookie playing alongside Darrell Green and Champ Bailey in 2001, he talked… and talked… and talked.

“I don’t talk because that’s what people want me to do; I talk because it’s what I want to do,” Smoot said. “When I’m intense, I’m talking. You don’t have to listen.”

Smoot is known as a talker, but he said years of listening - he has played for seven defensive coordinators in eight years, including Marvin Lewis, Gregg Williams and Mike Tomlin - have made him a sounder player.

“He’s [verbally] proactive on the football field,” cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray said. “A lot of guys want to be reactive, but we need guys to be proactive.”

Tapping his right temple, Smoot said: “I work smart, not hard. I used to work so hard to make a play. Now I don’t waste steps.”

From 2001 to 2004, Smoot missed only four games for the Redskins. As a free agent, he signed with Minnesota when the Redskins failed to sign him long-term. Smoot quickly realized it was a mistake.

In two forgettable years in Minnesota - forgettable, that is, other than the “Love Boat” debacle, in which Smoot pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after players reportedly chartered a boat for a sex party - he lost his starting job and was injured. The Vikings released him in March 2007; the Redskins pounced just days later with a five-year, $25 million contract.

“The only thing I regret is that I left here,” he said. “If I had stayed, everything would have stayed on track. The signing with Minnesota was just a terrible move. I didn’t like the place from the get-go, and anytime a player doesn’t like a place, they won’t perform.”

Back with the Redskins, it took Smoot time to reacclimate himself to the Redskins’ style. With the Vikings, Smoot played primarily press coverage. The Redskins play both press and off coverage depending on the call. So when Smoot returned, Gray went to work on his technique.

“Number one was backpedaling,” Gray said. “A lot of times, guys who are press guys won’t trust playing off, but he’s doing a better job.”

Improved technique and the experience of 114 regular-season games have morphed Smoot into a reliable player regardless of the situation and made him a natural to fill the safety role occasionally held by Springs last year.

“The more things you can do, the better off you are - especially if you can play another position,” Smoot said. “I know defenses, and I know football.”

As exhibited by his bravado, Smoot might have aged, but he hasn’t changed.

“Different, funny, crazy - any word you can think of in that same area,” Rogers said. “He’s a different guy. He keeps guys going.

“He’s just Smoot.”

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