Redskins Backed Into a Corner

The reality of a season-ending knee injury sets in for Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers.
The reality of a season-ending knee injury sets in for Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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VIDEO | Word on the Street With Ken Harvey
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Usually among the Washington Redskins' most upbeat players, cornerback Fred Smoot lost his signature smile as he reviewed the state of the secondary at Redskins Park yesterday.

Smoot shook his head in disbelief about what has befallen the unit, including the loss of cornerback Carlos Rogers for the remainder of the season; the serious medical condition of cornerback Shawn Springs's father, Ron; and the knee injury that will sideline safety Sean Taylor indefinitely. Smoot didn't bother to include his own recurring hamstring problems.

"Man, I really can't" remember going through a year like this before, said Smoot, a seven-year veteran who is in the first season of his second stint with the Redskins. "Including all the injuries, and the things Shawn is going through with his dad, it's just been a lot of stuff that's added up on us. You start to think to yourself, 'Yeah, what else can happen?' But like we've been talking about all along, we've just got to find a way to persevere. We've just got to look to each other to find a way to get out of this, because we know it's not about to get any easier for us."

As the Redskins (5-4) prepare to play the Cowboys (8-1) on Sunday in Dallas, they will adjust the secondary again because of injuries, including one to Taylor, their anchor in deep coverage in the base cover-2 defense. Springs, considered Washington's best defender in man-to-man overage, has played well while his father has been hospitalized for weeks in Dallas, and the unit will lean heavily on him in an effort to curb the Cowboys' fast-paced passing attack. The secondary faltered late in the game as the Redskins squandered another second-half lead in losing to Philadelphia last Sunday, and it must rebound quickly against another NFC East rival.

"In this league, last week was a challenge, this week will be a challenge and the next week is always going to be a challenge," safety Pierson Prioleau said. "Obviously, we didn't finish the game like we wanted to, and it always hurts to lose a player like Sean, but we're just going to have to have other people step up this week. It's our job. It's what we do."

Their work became more difficult when Taylor, who leads the Redskins with five interceptions, sprained his right knee late in the third quarter of a 33-25 loss to the Eagles on Sunday at FedEx Field. Without Taylor, the secondary struggled down the stretch, contributing to the Redskins' third loss this season -- and 13th since 2004 -- in a game in which they had led at halftime. An MRI exam Monday confirmed Taylor has a Grade 2 sprain of his medial collateral ligament, and the Redskins expect him to be sidelined at least two to three weeks.

Although the Redskins are confident about their depth in the secondary, Coach Joe Gibbs acknowledged that the hard-hitting Taylor is "an unusual player," adding that opponents are reluctant to take shots downfield because of Taylor's presence deep in zone defenses. In 2006, the Redskins were last in the NFL in yards allowed per pass attempt, giving up an average of 6.91 yards. Springs missed seven games because of injuries and Prioleau hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the first game against Minnesota and was sidelined the remainder of the season.

With Taylor playing a more disciplined style this season, Springs and Prioleau back in form, the return of Smoot, who re-signed with Washington after two seasons in Minnesota, and the addition of rookie safety LaRon Landry, the Redskins are tied for fourth this season at 6.1.

Last season, the Redskins gave up a league-worst 55 passes of 20 yards or more. Washington has given up 22 passes of more than 20 yards this season, ranking 10th.

"Obviously, we've been so used to Sean being back there, and he got off to a great start this year with a bunch of picks," Gibbs said. "And to be quite truthful, I think most football teams, when they see him back there, they pretty much rule that out. Even New England, they kind of took the approach, 'We aren't going back there.' Guys are going to have to step up and play well in his place until he gets back."

But the secondary was stretched thin even before Taylor was injured.

Rogers tore his right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in a 52-7 loss to the Patriots on Oct. 28. He underwent season-ending surgery last week. Smoot has played at less than full health all season (he has been inactive three games) because of hamstring problems, and Springs's family situation has been a concern for the whole team. Ron Springs, a former Cowboys running back, has been in a coma since having surgery to remove a cyst from his elbow Oct. 13.


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