New Coverage Frees Cornerbacks to Get Close

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot enjoys almost nothing more than lining up as close as possible to a wide receiver, all the better to dispense with some of his legendary trash talk. This season, he may get an opportunity to do so more than ever.

Washington has tended to play press-man coverage with its cornerbacks in the early stages of training camp, a technique in which the defenders align flush against the line of scrimmage and try to derail the receivers before they get into their routes.

Smoot, Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers -- the top three cornerbacks -- have the size and coverage skills necessary to execute the scheme. In years past, the Redskins tended to drop their cornerbacks a few yards off the line in man-to-man coverage, but now coaches are instructing them to press receivers off the snap.

"When they got me from Mississippi State, that's what I did," Smoot said of pressing at the line. "And that's what [cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray] says he wants us to do. Me, Shawn and Carlos, we excel at that. We're going to play a lot on the line this year."

The aggressive technique is an inherent gamble: If the cornerback fails to knock the receiver off his route, the pass catcher generally can roam free deep into the secondary. But unlike in years past, the Redskins now have two pass-rushing threats on the outside, and the presence of ball-hawking safety LaRon Landry deep beyond the cornerbacks serves as a downfield deterrent as well.

"In my opinion, if you've got corners who can play press-man, and just leave those [cornerbacks] alone, you really can focus in the front seven and front eight with the run game," Coach Jim Zorn said. "And in most offenses, it's very difficult to beat a team that can play man coverage.

"I don't think it's something we can play 100 percent of the time, but we do have some talent there to really press, and our guys are challenged every day at the wide receiver position with that. It's the toughest thing to defeat and the best thing you can do, if you can do it on defense."

Evans Is Impressing

While the arrival of Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor has been greeted with great fanfare, the gains made by reserve Demetric Evans have been overlooked. Evans was in line to take the starting left end job vacated by the injured Phillip Daniels, but the Redskins acted quickly to add Taylor and thus greatly enhance their pass rush.

But Evans still could be a significant factor this season. He continues to rotate at both end and tackle and has had a very strong opening week of camp. Evans employed Daniels's vaunted workout plan this offseason, training as a powerlifter and adding 10 pounds of muscle.

Last year, the Redskins were grooming Evans as a right end -- where quickness on the pass rush is most important -- but this year he was moved to left end, which generally carries heavy run-stopping responsibilities and thus requires a bit more bulk.

"I used Phillip's lifting regimen and implemented it in my offseason workout," Evans said. "He's pretty much the man when it comes to knowing how to train."

New defensive line coach John Palermo said he likes what he has seen from Evans. His combination of dexterity and mobility, along with upper-body strength, allows Evans to play as a tackle on passing downs and in the nickel package, where the Redskins hope he can help generate a pocket-collapsing thrust.

"He's worked really hard in camp in whatever role he's playing in," Palermo said. "He plays very well against the run, and when we bump him inside in the nickel front he does a good job rushing the passer. Obviously, he's in our plans to help us win."

Light Day for Veterans

Roughly 50 of the 80 players in camp, including a few veterans such as Springs, Evans and Marcus Washington, took part in the second practice session, which was devoted to special teams. With no meetings scheduled, most veterans were given the afternoon off.

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