Springs Remains Cornerstone On Defense

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 2, 2008

There were times during the offseason when Shawn Springs doubted he would be playing for the Washington Redskins, as his name was mentioned in trade rumors and he reached a stalemate on negotiations for a reworked contract. There were concerns that he was injury-prone or aging, but, as the Redskins enter the playoffs, Springs is again the team's top cornerback.

Springs, largely healthy for the first time since 2004, has produced another strong season and made a series of big plays during Washington's four-game winning streak. When starting corner Carlos Rogers was lost for the season because of a knee surgery in October, Springs began assuming a larger role again and finished second on the team with four interceptions -- all in the final four games.

Springs, 32, intercepted two passes in a win over Chicago, which started the streak, then posted an interception in Minnesota and added another in Sunday's win over Dallas. The four interceptions are his most since he had five in 2004. In '05 and '06, he had two total as he battled through groin problems and a sports hernia injury. Springs's theory of his recent success is that word of the back injury he suffered against Buffalo led opponents to try to test him more.

"People are throwing the ball at me now," Springs said. "Early in the year I didn't get a lot of balls. When my back went out they thought they could get me."

Games against the Cowboys always are particularly touching for Springs, because his father, Ron, who has been on life support for months with little chance of survival, was a standout fullback for Dallas. Should the Redskins defeat Seattle -- the team that drafted Springs third overall in 1997 and where he developed into a Pro Bowler -- Washington would go back to Dallas in the second round of the playoffs.

"I've got a huge smile on my face for Shawn Springs, to battle through what he has all year with his father," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. "And people talked about his cap number [in the offseason], and all that, and you know what? The guy has played great all year long and been so focused."

Springs remains a strong candidate for another attempt at offseason restructuring, with a $7.5 million cap figure for 2008. Some close to him still expect Springs to be elsewhere, but with Rogers unlikely to be fully fit until later next season and with the loss of Sean Taylor, the Redskins could lower his cap number without depriving Springs in actual salary.

A Big Difference

Redskins players are discounting comparisons of this weekend's game to Washington's loss to Seattle in the second round of the playoffs following the 2005 season. Players and coaches have been quick to comment on how much the rosters of both teams have changed, and how the philosophies of both teams have changed as well.

The Seahawks, for instance, ran the ball 90 fewer times in 2007 than they did in 2005 -- with featured back Shaun Alexander no longer as effective -- while the Redskins now have a thriving Todd Collins at quarterback instead of Mark Brunell, who was hurting and slowing down two postseasons ago. The Redskins believe they are deeper than they were two years ago, particularly in the defensive backfield and at wide receiver.

"That's got nothing to do with this year," wide receiver Santana Moss said of the previous playoff matchup. "This year is a whole different year. They're a different team and we're a different team. It's a whole different scenario and everything."

Yet that 20-10 loss is hardly forgotten. Players are adamant that, had Rogers held on to an early interception, the Redskins might have run away with the game. "We've got unfinished business up there," one member of the organization said this week.

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