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Defense Has 'A Lot to Prove,' Williams Says

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Fred Smoot drifted back, watching the eyes of Ravens quarterback Steve McNair.

McNair's pass floated to the right sideline, where Smoot was helping Sean Taylor cover tight end Todd Heap. The ball was under-thrown, though, and Smoot leaped up for an easy interception.

It was one play, in a 7-on-7 drill of a scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens.

But after a 2006 season in which the Redskins forced a meager 12 turnovers, including just six interceptions, Smoot's pick had to raise the spirits of the defense--and the secondary in particular.

If the Redskins are to have a successful 2007, they are going to have to improve in the turnovers department.

Said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams: "We've got to get big plays on defense to set up our offense. Our offense two years ago was the No. 1 offense operating on a short field. We've got to give them some short fields this year."

The Redskins' defense is trying to get back to the level of play they exhibited in 2004 and 2005, Williams' first two years in charge when they were top 10 units.

The defense slipped to 31st overall a year ago in a very disappointing 5-11 campaign.

The way forward involves an attitude change, Williams suggested.

"We've got to prove ourselves again," he said. "I'm a better coach when we're in playing that fashion--with a chip on our shoulders."

He continued: "We've got a bitter taste to get out of our mouths. It's actually fun to see our players respond. With the mindset we're seeing right now, our competition is really good, our depth is really good, and our team speed is as good as it has been since I've been here."

That speed is evident in the secondary. Smoot is just one example of how the Redskins have gone about upgrading their defensive backfield.

Other examples include adding veteran safety Omar Stoutmire and experienced cornerbacks Jerametrius Butler and David Macklin. LSU safety LaRon Landry was a first-round pick at strong safety and veteran Pierson Prioleau returns healthy.

They join starters Sean Taylor, a Pro Bowler in 2006, and cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers.

Williams believes the Redskins' defensive backfield has more depth than any other time during his four-year career with the Redskins.

Will that be enough?

In 2006, the Redskins' defense logged a league-low 19 sacks last season, with just 13 coming from defensive linemen.

Last offseason, the Redskins basically stood pat up front, despite registering a league-low 19 sacks.

But they're optimistic Andre Carter can help improve pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Veterans Phillip Daniels and Cornelius Griffin need to stay healthy in order to be contributors and Kedric Golston has to show that last year was no fluke.

Marcus Washington, the Redskins' strong-side linebacker, will be asked to bring pressure off the edge.

"One of the things we'll do is take a look at all of our packages and see how [Washington] fits in as a pass-rusher," Williams said. "Because of our depth at linebacker, he's going to get more opportunities there."

Speaking of Carter's first year with the Redskins, Williams said: "When he got here, because he played so many different positions as a hybrid his last year in San Francisco, he struggled with his footwork. He struggled with his hand placement. He struggled with the commitment of being a full-time defensive end again.

"But he really made strides from about midway point of the season of just being comfortable with his technique. And when you remove all that clutter upstairs of over-thinking, then you're just flat playing hard. He's one of the most highly-conditioned people I've ever been around.

"His motor races as hot on the last play of the game as it does at the start of the game. I really believe you're going to see a breakthrough year for him."

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