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Injuries Force Defensive Backs To Take a Quick Step Forward

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 7, 2006

If cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray had his way, the Washington Redskins would have Shawn Springs on the field Monday night, lined up on Minnesota's top receivers and in top form. But with Springs (listed as doubtful) almost certain to miss the regular season opener while recovering from abdominal surgery, Gray has been spending considerable time cultivating his depth, a process that could go on for several weeks while Springs works back to health.

"I think we'll be fine," Gray said. "We've got some good guys here and we brought some good guys in. They're used to starting in this league and they've played a lot of snaps, so if we need them for Monday, I think they're going to be ready."

Veteran Kenny Wright has been starting in Springs's place this preseason, and stands to continue doing so Monday. Cornerback Mike Rumph has been working primarily with the scout team and special teams, Gray said, while Ade Jimoh, a special teams standout, missed much of camp with a sternum injury. Second-year pro Carlos Rogers is atop the depth chart for now with Springs out. Wright started 16 games for Jacksonville last season after starting just five contests the previous three years for Houston, and has been working with Gray since signing here in April, adapting to this defensive scheme.

"Coach Gray's mentality of playing defense is he wants you to be aggressive, smart and tough," Wright said. "That's really all you can ask for out of a coach, because defensive players have to be smart and tough. There's a lot of flexibility built into this system. You can do more than one thing against more than one formation, and that's the big thing. They just put you in position to make plays and you just have to make them."

Wright, who turns 29 next week, is replacing Walt Harris, a veteran who was forced into a starting role often last season because of injuries to Springs and Rogers. The Redskins pursued Wright to be a solid third corner who could make spot starts when need be, and that opportunity has presented itself sooner than expected.

The entire secondary must make strides from its preseason performances, however. Opposing quarterbacks, New England's Tom Brady in particular, shredded the defense with passes. Rogers was still penalty-prone right through the preseason finale, and Wright and Rumph also had rough spells. With the Redskins so difficult to run against for the most part, the Vikings could target the cornerbacks in their game plan.

Gray said that the reserve cornerbacks have had sufficient time to hone their play, and they will be expected to perform well in Springs's absence.

"They've gotten a little bit indoctrinated into our system," Gray said. "They understand what we're doing, and now they just have to go out and compete."

McIntosh 'Up in the Air'

Rookie linebacker Rocky McIntosh is unsure whether he will start Monday, and, given the team's history of working in youngsters slowly, odds are that veteran Warrick Holdman will start. But McIntosh's aggressiveness will get him on the field in several packages as he continues to grasp the nuances of the defense. "Everything is up in the air," McIntosh said. "All I know is that we're competing and the best three [linebackers] will play, and I want to be one of those guys." . . . Rumph, one of five Miami Hurricanes on the roster, had hoped to watch his school's big game with Florida State at safety Sean Taylor's house Monday night, but did not have his teammate's number. So instead, he absorbed the agony of the 13-10 defeat alone. "I ended up watching it by myself," Rumph said. "I needed somebody there with me at the end, man. That hurt my heart." . . . Injured running back Clinton Portis (listed as questionable) was at Redskins Park for treatment on his partially dislocated shoulder yesterday during the day off. He has yet to practice since getting hurt in the first preseason game, and, if he misses today's training session, that might not bode well for his chances of playing Monday.

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