Springs Is 'Glue of This Defense'

Shawn Springs played in every game in 2007.
Shawn Springs played in every game in 2007. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Shawn Springs is no longer the 22-year-old cornerback who entered the NFL as the third overall selection by the Seattle Seahawks in the 1997 NFL draft.

No longer does he depend solely on his athleticism -- though at 33 he is probably in better shape than most of his younger teammates on the Washington Redskins -- but rather on the mental aspects of the game. And while still a jokester in the locker room, Springs has become more of a leader and role model, coaches say.

But despite the changes that have come as part of the natural maturation process over his career, one constant remains: Springs is still the shutdown cornerback he always has been.

And following a summer in which he nearly walked away from the game, Springs again will be asked to lead a secondary that has struggled with injury and tragedy in recent years but will be vital to the success of the team in 2008.

"He's the glue, right now he's the glue of this defense," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "If we have anyone go down, he might have to shuffle [or do] whatever's best for the team. He's that guy right now; he's that card we can't afford to lose."

Springs has endured much off the field over the past year. His father, Ron, fell into a coma last October after what was believed to be a routine surgery to remove a cyst. And his stepmother, Adriane, had breast cancer diagnosed this past winter. The family struggles took an emotional toll on Springs, and this summer he briefly contemplated retirement.

"I don't want to say I was depressed, because I wasn't depressed, but I was just like done [with football], man," Springs said this summer. "I was really dragging for a month or so. I was hurting."

Springs eventually decided to return for a 12th season, and back at Redskins Park, he seems to have found solace on the field. "When I'm on the football field I don't think about much outside of being a football player," Springs said.

Around the team's headquarters, his sheepish grin is almost always visible. And along with fellow cornerbacks Smoot and Carlos Rogers, he can often be heard joking and laughing through the hallways.

Asked to describe the three cornerbacks' chemistry, defensive coordinator Greg Blache quipped: "You use the term chemistry loosely. Some of us call it weird science. They're a collection, I put it that way. They're a unique group. It's like when I'm turkey hunting, I can sit in the woods sometimes and hear the turkeys cackling and coming. I can hear that group cackling and coming long before I see them."

But Springs also provides valuable leadership and vital experience. Coaches say Springs's knowledge is respected by the other players and that his ability to make adjustments in games and in practice shows his football IQ and football savvy.

And while they likely won't admit it, Smoot and Rogers look to Springs as a leader, safeties coach Steve Jackson said.

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