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Using Depth on Defense, Coaches Rotate Players

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 10, 2007

The Redskins believe they have sufficiently addressed their lack of depth on defense from a miserable 2006 season, and the coaches used a rotation at several key positions in yesterday's 16-13 overtime win over Miami at FedEx Field.

Cornerback Shawn Springs, the most accomplished of Washington's defensive backs, did not even start and was used mostly as a nickel back, while youngster Anthony Montgomery beat out fellow 2006 draft pick Kedric Golston for a starting tackle spot.

Washington's secondary was overwhelmed last year, giving up the worst passer rating and the most big passing plays in the NFL, but Dolphins quarterback Trent Green rarely appeared comfortable yesterday and threw mostly short passes for 219 yards. Springs played a few series in the base package, but Carlos Rogers and free agent signing Fred Smoot had the majority of the snaps, with mixed results.

In the third quarter the Dolphins threw at Smoot four straight times en route to a field goal, and in the fourth quarter Miami used wide receiver Chris Chambers to go after Rogers, a 2005 first-round pick, on play after play, making a 28-yard grab and then drawing a 20-yard pass interference call. That drive ended in a game-tying field goal.

Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, said the rotation could change by the week as he aims to keep his top three corners healthy, a huge factor in allowing him to be as aggressive on the blitz as he would like.

"It's good to take the pounding off those guys," Williams said. "It's a long season, and we want to make sure we're healthy, and on a really hot day like that, make sure we've got gas in the tank to finish the game strong."

Springs missed much of last season with a sports hernia but made several big hits in run support and, after linebacker Rocky McIntosh forced a fumble, Spring's late dive recovered the ball for Washington's first takeaway of the season (the Redskins set a modern record with just 12 a year ago). The Redskins often used extra safeties in the nickel and dime packages to spell others, but even with five of them in uniform -- a rarity -- they could have used more.

Pierson Prioleau, who missed all of last season with a knee sprain on the opening kickoff of the season, had to leave early with a hamstring injury, and safety Vernon Fox was knocked from the game with a groin strain and did not return. With the extra defensive backs, the Redskins activated three defensive tackles.

"We did okay, but there's some things on film we have to learn from," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said.

M. Washington on Field

Linebacker Marcus Washington had trouble tackling running backs a few times with a brace on his dislocated right elbow but was happy with the overall results. Washington suffered the injury in the second preseason game and had not played since.

"It's still a little sore," said Washington, in what is almost certainly a serious understatement. "I'm just happy I was able to play the whole game with it." . . .

Coach Joe Gibbs maintains officials botched a procedural penalty on a fourth and two in the fourth quarter, calling a false start on tight end Todd Yoder. Gibbs also said he had no second thoughts about kicking a field goal on first down in overtime. "I have lost two games here in the past three years by needing a field goal, but trying to make more," he said. "I've learned my lesson."

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