By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006
On Wednesday afternoon, cornerback Shawn Springs headed out to practice for the first time in more than a month, with Washington Redskins coaches and athletic trainers optimistic that he would be able to make his season debut Sunday in Houston. But yesterday Springs was receiving more treatment for a groin injury while his teammates were on the practice field wondering when he will play.
Springs, who underwent surgery Aug. 14 to repair an abdominal muscle that had torn from the pelvic bone, had to leave the field with a groin strain, meaning the team will be without its best defensive back for a third straight game. Bubba Tyer, director of sports medicine, said Springs will rest for several days before working with athletic trainers next week. A return for Week 4 is a possibility but not a certainty.
"Shawn is really disappointed and we're really disappointed," Tyer said. "He's worked so hard, and we were all really in the tank yesterday when this happened, and we still are today to some degree. He did so much running with us and what he did yesterday was hardly anything. So we're working to get him back up and running again."
Springs, 31, learned the results of the MRI exam, which revealed an abductor sprain unrelated to his original tear, yesterday morning. He will receive treatment and ice through the weekend, Tyer said, and the staff will determine next week when he can practice again.
Springs was receiving treatment yesterday during the period when the Redskins' locker room is open to reporters and was unavailable for comment.
The fact that this injury is not as severe as the previous one bodes well for a recovery, Tyer said, although any injury to the groin or abdomen carries a risk of aggravation because a cornerback is required to sprint, stop and cut frequently.
"It's a setback, and in some way it's related to his recovery from the other injury," Tyer said. "But this is in a different spot on his leg."
The Redskins originally expected Springs to be sidelined four to six weeks after the surgery. Last week, Springs worked on his lateral movement, acceleration and agility with athletic trainers, making progress in his recovery.
Then came the setback. The Redskins have struggled against long pass plays without Springs, and their pass rush is suffering, too. Springs has the ability to attack the quarterback from the corner position, an important role in this defense, and he is also stout enough downfield to neutralize a premier receiver; those coverage skills in turn allow the Redskins' defense to blitz linebackers and safeties more freely without having to worry about conceding big passing plays.
"The biggest thing in Shawn's absence has been from a communication and leadership standpoint," said Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense. "You take a look at how many new guys are back there playing together for the first time."
Springs, a Silver Spring native, was one of Washington's primary free agent targets when Coach Joe Gibbs formed his coaching staff in 2004, and he played in 15 regular season games each previous season here after injuries took a toll on him during seven seasons in Seattle. He fought through groin problems much of last season yet performed at a top level, and played one preseason game this summer before visiting a specialist and undergoing surgery.
The Texans, Sunday's opponent, led the NFL in sacks allowed last season and quarterback David Carr has been sacked nine times already through two games. But Houston does have two quality receivers, Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds, who could present matchup problems for the Redskins. Carr is completing an NFL-best 75.5 percent of his passes this season against two active defenses -- Philadelphia and Indianapolis -- and his 123.7 rating is second among all starting quarterbacks.
Texans first-year coach Gary Kubiak "has done a very good job in a short amount of time on making the quarterback very comfortable and giving him a base reference of what to do," Williams said. "I have been impressed with how well the quarterback has played and how he's adapted to what Gary wants done. We've got our work cut out for us."
The starting cornerbacks in Springs's absence -- Kenny Wright, a former Texan, and second-year player Carlos Rogers -- have struggled, with new starting safety Adam Archuleta enduring a difficult transition to the system as well. Rogers was beaten by Minnesota's Troy Williamson repeatedly downfield in the season-opening 19-16 defeat, and he gave up a 20-yard touchdown catch to Marcus Robinson.
Wright was solid against the Vikings but suffered against Dallas's Terry Glenn, while Rogers focused on the less-effective Terrell Owens. Glenn and Owens confused the defense by flooding the same side of the field on one route, with Glenn's 34-yard reception setting up the game's first touchdown. "We've got to improve on our technique," Wright said. "It's nothing that can't be corrected." Dallas scored its second touchdown after Wright's pass-interference penalty on Glenn resulted in a 41-yard penalty down to the 1, and Glenn put away the 27-10 victory by catching a 40-yard touchdown pass.
"We just need to stay disciplined," Rogers said. "If we need to play deep, then we've got to be deep. That's the main thing. It's all on us. The coaches have led us the right way and somehow when we see another little short route come in front of us sometimes we want to guard that route and forget we got a guy running full speed behind us."
The secondary is playing aggressively, led by safety Sean Taylor, but must eliminate its penchant for penalties and improve its coverage. The Redskins rank 24th in points allowed, 25th in third-down efficiency on defense, 23rd in average yards against per pass and 29th in sacks per passing attempt, allowing five plays of more than 25 yards already this season.
"We gave up a couple of plays over the top, and you just can't win with that on defense," Williams said. "You can't do those type of things on the big play."