Springs Able to Keep Smith Cornered

Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith gathers in an eight-yard touchdown reception as cornerback Shawn Springs remains close behind. Smith had just five catches for 34 yards.
Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith gathers in an eight-yard touchdown reception as cornerback Shawn Springs remains close behind. Smith had just five catches for 34 yards. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2006

It was the kind of challenge cornerback Shawn Springs relishes, the kind from which the Redskins had infrequently emerged victorious this season: a one-on-one matchup against Carolina's Steve Smith, arguably the most dangerous wide receiver in the NFC.

Shadowing individual receivers is not what Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams advocates. Against the Indianapolis Colts, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were not given one-on-one treatment. Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn and Joey Galloway were not either.

But yesterday, Williams told his best cornerback to be a shutdown corner and go toe-to-toe with Smith, who was averaging more than 100 yards per game, and the result was a classic fight between cornerback and receiver and a Redskins defense that also appeared to take up the challenge, playing its most physical, complete game of the season.

"Not only do you have that tough duty of having to cover who I think is one of the best receivers in the National Football League in Steve Smith, but you have to be physical with him because he's a very stout receiver," Williams said. "I know Shawn has to be exhausted running all over the field and then being physical with him, because it was like a fistfight in a phone booth."

For the first time, Springs was healthy enough for such an encounter. Slowed by abdominal surgery since the first exhibition game, Springs sat out the first five weeks of the season. In the meantime, wide receivers around the league have had their way with the Redskins' secondary.

"What I get more ticked off about is when during the week people keep saying 'What about Steve Smith?' like I'm chopped liver. Then, when we do something well, like it's a shock. As a competitive player, that's what we do."

Each won individual battles, but the war went to Springs. Smith, who entered the game with 870 yards in eight games, caught five passes for 34 yards.

"He's very physical and for us to be able to hold him down, he's ruined some people in this league," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Our defensive guys did a great job there . . . against him."

On the Panthers' first series, Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme threw deep to Smith with Springs covering him, and was intercepted by safety Vernon Fox.

"I'm one of those guys who is grateful to be where I am. I've taken a crazy and winding path to get where I am and just the opportunity is what it's all about," said Fox, signed as a free agent in August. "Fortunately, I was the guy that was out there."

On another third down, Delhomme hit Smith short of the first-down marker. Usually a play Smith could break into a big gain, Springs stopped him cold.

"He's an explosive guy. Gregg kept telling us he was the most explosive guy we played against so far," he said. "We had a simple game plan, simple in theory, difficult in execution."

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