- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

It took just a week for Cornelius Griffin to be left all alone.

The Washington Redskins cut linebacker Marcus Washington on Feb. 20. They then voided defensive end Phillip Daniels‘ contract. And on Feb. 27, the club allowed end Demetric Evans to become a free agent and hours later dispatched cornerback Shawn Springs, who, like Washington, was a victim of high salary and increasing infirmity.

Just like that, Griffin was by himself, the lone survivor of the wave of players who came to Washington in 2004 and revived a laggard defense.

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The Redskins have ranked among the NFL’s top 10 defenses in four of the past five years, a span in which the club twice reached the playoffs.

The defense of Griffin, Springs, Washington, Daniels and Evans arguably played its best during its 2004 debut although the Redskins finished 6-10 because of its 30th-ranked offense. Washington made the Pro Bowl. Griffin led the league in tackles for a loss, and Springs became the first defensive back to lead a team in both interceptions and sacks.

“We didn’t go to the playoffs, but that was probably my most memorable season,” Griffin said Monday from his offseason home in Alabama. “No one gave us a chance. We practiced and played every day with a passion. We played lights-out football every play.”

The Redskins’ interest in re-signing either Daniels or Evans rose Monday when the club cut end Jason Taylor. The Redskins still have starter Andre Carter on the right side of the line, but otherwise at end they have only skinny, little-used Canadian Football League refugee Chris Wilson, 2007 practice squad member Alex Buzbee and Rob Jackson, who hardly played last season as a rookie.

The team only half-heartedly tried to re-sign Evans before he hit the market, but coach Jim Zorn said Tuesday he wants him back. Evans is willing to return but only as a starter.

Daniels, 36, missed all of last season after tearing two knee ligaments on the first snap of training camp.

So at least for now, Griffin is the last true holdover from that 2004 defense. Cornerback Fred Smoot was a part of it, but he then left for Minnesota before returning. Special teams ace Khary Campbell also was on that squad, but he hardly played on defense.

“I got to hold up the standard in the [locker] room,” Griffin said. “The way we’ve been playing since ‘04, we got to keep doing it. Anytime you lose a buddy, especially one you’ve seen every day for five years, it makes you sad, but that’s how the game is. You welcome the new guys, form a camaraderie with them and keep going.”

The big new guy is Albert Haynesworth, whose arrival figures to make life much easier for his new linemate. Griffin shouldn’t face any double-teams playing next to the All-Pro tackle after having to contend with them while lined up alongside Kedric Golston, Anthony Montgomery or Lorenzo Alexander.

“It’s going to be great for the Redskins and great for me,” Griffin said. “Albert will be the main focus, and that will leave me free. We’re still going to stop the run first, but now we’re going to get more pressure outside because Albert’s inside and we’ll collapse the middle. It should give me the opportunity to really penetrate and get pressure against the run and the pass. We already had a good rotation at the tackle position, and Albert makes our line better. We can be a dominant force inside.”

Defensive coordinator Greg Blache is a big believer in the discipline of his system, but he said he will adjust the scheme to better use the talents of the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Haynesworth.

“You got to tweak it a little bit for Haynesworth because he can make things happen,” Griffin said, laughing. “You got to make him comfortable where he can make plays.”

Although he misses his old pals, Griffin is excited about the prospects for next season.

“It’s going to be fun,” Griffin said. “We should go into the season thinking nothing else except that we should be the No. 1 defense in the league. That should be our goal when we start working out: being No. 1 in every category.”

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