Redskins Hoping Smoot Isn't All Talk

Fred Smoot must re-establish himself as a starting-caliber cornerback. He enters camp behind Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers on the depth chart.
Fred Smoot must re-establish himself as a starting-caliber cornerback. He enters camp behind Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers on the depth chart. (The Post)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2007

Fred Smoot's distinctive voice -- a rapid Southern accent laced with quirky slang -- used to echo above all others through the fields and halls of Redskins Park. During his first stint with Washington from 2001 through 2004, Smoot was a verbose, happy-go-lucky character who charmed coaches and teammates with his gift of gab and perpetual smile.

But in two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Smoot said he was a different person. The Mississippi native foundered in the snowy locale, derailing his career with his role in the infamous sex boat incident involving several Vikings during the 2005 season, suffering repeated injuries and surrendering his starting status. Personally, the cornerback suffered too, losing a half brother in a car accident last season and longing to be back in more comfortable surroundings.

Smoot's heart yearned for a homecoming; the Redskins longed for an upgrade in their secondary.

That mutual desire brought the sides back in contact in March -- the Vikings released him rather than pay his hefty contract -- and after settling on a $7 million signing bonus, Smoot came home again. How long this relationship lasts remains to be seen. Smoot's play has lagged since leaving, he has struggled to stay healthy and must reestablish himself as a starting-caliber cornerback (he entered camp behind Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers on the depth chart).

Smoot, 28, talks as if a long-term, amicable reunion with the Redskins is fait accompli, fawning over the organization, asserting his rebirth, praising coaches and reiterating how foolish he was to have left in the first place.

It all sounds good, and when Smoot turns on the charm -- his rhetoric falling somewhere between a gifted preacher and a used-car salesman -- it's hard not to fall prey. But spinning yarns, telling stories and boasting about his ability always has come naturally. Proving he is not damaged goods will be a more profound chore.

"I just wasn't into it," Smoot said of his two years in Minnesota. "I hated the place. I was in a depression, believe that? Smiling Fred Smoot goes through a depression?

"But it happened, man, it happened. I was down, and that's why I made this happen. I went to [Minnesota's] front office and told them: 'I don't want to be there no more. We need to work something out.' And we made it happen. I got out of there, and now smiling Fred Smoot is back."

In reality, the transaction was not quite so one-sided. Smoot's stock had plummeted with the Vikings less than 24 months after getting an $11 million signing bonus as a free agent.

Smoot, picked 45th overall by Washington in 2001, was implicated as a central figure in the sex boat scandal, during which he and other players were alleged to have engaged in explicit contact with strippers while taking a team cruise on a public lake. Smoot pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, was ordered to do community service and paid an $82,352 fine mandated by the NFL.

A broken collarbone sidetracked his 2005 season, and he missed the end of last season after breaking his jaw in five places in a car accident.

Last November, Smoot also was inactive for a game after missing a week of practice to return home to Mississippi when his half brother, Matthew Taylor, 20, died in a car accident. Smoot's half brother, Mark Taylor, then 18, was in the car at the time but recovered.

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