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Springs Is Sure to Draw A Number of Comparison

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2004; Page D01

The Washington Redskins cornerback wearing No. 24 switches directions with a familiar fluidity, trying to shadow opposing wide receivers during drills at Redskins Park. He possesses a similar self-assurance essential in defending some of the most explosive players on the field, such as wideout Laveranues Coles.

At 6 feet, 204 pounds, Shawn Springs is considerably bulkier than his predecessor, Champ Bailey, but not lacking speed or shiftiness. But when the former Seattle Seahawks defensive back removed his helmet to trudge off the field with his new teammates, the only reminder of Bailey was the No. 24.

Shawn Springs's happiness to be in Washington and comic personality have endeared him to teammates. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

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"I noticed it the first day," Coles said yesterday of Springs's jersey number conspicuously being the same as Bailey's.

Springs fully participated in Coach Joe Gibbs's second minicamp, which concluded yesterday after three daily practices. Because Springs missed last month's minicamp with a bone bruise, the eight-year veteran got his first chance to replace arguably the NFL's best cornerback. Springs realizes that the comparisons are inevitable, but if his choice of jersey is any indication, Springs -- who grew up in Silver Spring -- is extremely confident about his place in the NFL.

"When I came into the league no one [notable] was wearing 24," said Springs, laughing heartily, who was selected third overall in 1997 from Ohio State. "This is my number. The comparisons don't bother me."

After Bailey was traded to the Denver Broncos for Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis, the Redskins targeted Springs, who turned 29 last March. Gibbs called Springs just after midnight on March 3 -- the start of free agency -- and Springs was flown into Redskins Park the same day, when he signed a six-year, $30 million contract, which included a $10 million signing bonus.

The Redskins preferred Springs's NFL experience over several available young cornerbacks.

"The greatest thing about bringing in a guy like Shawn is his maturity level," middle linebacker LaVar Arrington said yesterday. "He knows he's not going to come in and be the new Champ Bailey. He's coming in to be Shawn Springs. He knows what his strengths are.

"He wore 24 [before]. It's obviously clear that Champ is not here. At the same time, you've got to move on."

Springs hopes to return to his healthy days when he made the Pro Bowl in his second NFL season after snagging a career-high seven interceptions. Over the past three seasons, however, Springs has missed nine games because of injury, including four early last season. Bailey, by comparison, never missed a game in his five years in Washington.

But the Redskins said they thoroughly examined Springs's medical records before signing him. Springs, who considers himself to be 85 percent healthy, believes that the rash of injuries in recent years stems from bad luck and playing several years. Springs noted that he started every game for the Seahawks from 1998 to 2000.

"Anybody that plays long enough can get hurt," Springs said. "It happens."

Last season, Bailey questioned the direction of the Redskins and lamented the constant turnover. Gibbs has cited Bailey's reluctance to return as a factor in the Redskins putting him on the trading block. Conversely, Springs -- who starred at Springbrook High -- considered it a dream to play for the Redskins. Springs's mother lives in Bowie and his grandparents reside in Williamsburg, where he was born. One benefit is a relatively short drive to Bowie after practice for a home-cooked meal.

"I grew up here," Springs said, "so it felt good to come back home and be close to my family."

"He wanted to be here just as much as we wanted him here," said Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach overseeing defense. "[Gibbs] loves the Redskins and the people who we have around here, you want them to be in love with the Redskins just much as he is."

Springs's happiness is obvious -- the cornerback is quick to unleash a toothy grin. And Springs's comic personality has endeared him to teammates. Cornerback Fred Smoot was best friends with Bailey and still calls him regularly. But Smoot said that he has embraced being paired with Springs.

"I'm going to enjoy playing this year with him," Smoot said.

One thing that may dim the Bailey comparisons is the defensive schemes of Williams, who is known for using multiple cornerbacks at the same time. During the three-day minicamp, Coles was hardly defended by Springs -- a contrast to last year when Bailey, as the team's top cornerback, had epic matchups with Coles. Williams will place his cornerbacks on the left and right side of the field and occasionally base matchups on physical attributes.

"Some of the time when you see a particular guy matched up," Williams said, "it may not be who we deem as our top corner."

Redskins Notes: Until the next minicamp in early June, Gibbs expects players to be at Redskins Park on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to participate in walkthroughs and meet with position coaches. . . . Gibbs has relinquished his prime parking spot in front of Redskins Park and will give it up to certain players. The old sign -- "Reserved, Coach Joe Gibbs" says "Reserved, Player of the Week." . . . Owner Daniel Snyder, who missed the first minicamp while vacationing with his family in Switzerland, was in attendance. . . . The NFL has announced its rookie pool allocation, the maximum amount of cap space in 2004 each team can spend on its draft picks and undrafted free agents. The Redskins have the eighth-lowest amount: $3,098,865. Each selection has an allotted amount and Taylor, the fifth overall pick, is at roughly $2 million. . . . Offensive lineman Dave Fiore, who has an arthritic knee condition, says he hasn't yet decided whether to retire. . . . Because Gibbs doesn't use fullbacks, Rock Cartwright is hoping to make it as a reserve tailback. . . . Wide receiver James Thrash returned to practice after missing Saturday's session because of a sick child. Thrash said the baby is better.

Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.

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