Smith Presents a Challenge for Beleaguered Defense

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 24, 2006

The game plan for teams playing the Carolina Panthers is essentially the same each Sunday: Somehow stop wide receiver Steve Smith and you stand a pretty good chance of winning. That is much easier said than done.

Washington's reeling secondary faces a particularly stiff challenge this weekend against perhaps the single most dominant offensive player in football. The Redskins (3-7) rank 30th in total defense and 30th against the pass, last in allowing the most passes of 20 yards or more (41) and they are tied for last in allowing the most passes of 40 yards or more (11).

Smith has missed two games this season due to injury, but still ranks fourth in the NFL with 870 receiving yards. He has 14 catches of 20 yards or more through eight games and has found ways to continually pierce double coverage.

"I don't necessarily know that you shut down guys like Steve Smith," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "They have a good offensive coaches on that side of the ball who are going to put him in a position to make plays and move him around and get real creative with him.

"The biggest thing for most players and myself, if I could talk to other young players, I would say nowadays you've got to make plays on the ball. When you're lined up on somebody like Steve Smith you're going to have opportunities to make some plays. He might make a play or two, but you've got to make your play or two."

The Redskins have faltered in that area as well. They have just three interceptions and rank last in the league in interceptions per pass play. Despite all of that, though, Springs is keeping a sense of humor when devising a plan of attack against Smith.

"I go out there and say, 'What's up? How's the family doing?' " Springs said.

"I go out there and smile at him and try to do my job. I'm just out there chilling and doing my job."

Espy Is in the Mix

Rookie wide receiver Mike Espy played his first NFL game last Sunday. Now he wants to make his first NFL reception.

With Santana Moss and David Patten out with hamstring injuries, Espy got on the field for roughly five plays Sunday; Moss could return this weekend but if not, Espy is likely to dress against the Panthers (the team could conceivably activate five receivers regardless).

Espy was invited to a camp for undrafted players, then back for training camp, and ended up on the practice squad with Moss, Patten, James Thrash, Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd ahead of him on the depth chart.

"I knew it was a stacked deck, but I was being very optimistic," Espy said.

"I came into the situation and I don't want to come in trying to achieve anything less than the best.

"I wanted to be on the 53-man roster and when I was put on the practice squad I was thankful I was still here, but I disappointed it was on the practice squad. The practice squad is a steppingstone. I could have been out of the league, but that's a steppingstone, and this is a steppingstone."

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