The first time Fred Smoot put on a Redskins uniform, the San Diego Chargers went right after the rookie cornerback from Mississippi State.
In the second quarter of that 2001 opener at San Diego, Doug Flutie put the ball up high and deep, intended for wide receiver Jeff Graham at the Redskins' 7-yard line.
At that point, in stepped Smoot, the 5-11, 178-pound second-round draft pick seeing his first NFL action. Smoot intercepted Flutie on that play--which came on a miserable day for the Redskins, who were pummeled 30-3--and he gave early notice that he would not become a pushover at the pro level.
Now, Smoot returns to the team that drafted him at No. 45 overall in 2001. A seven-year veteran, Smoot will be seeking to regain the form that saw him lead the Redskins in interceptions three years in a row (2001-2003).
That's something no Redskin other than Smoot has ever accomplished--not Darrell Green, not Hall of Famer Paul Krause, not even the legendary Sammy Baugh.
The Redskins are coming off a season in which they produced just six interceptions as a team, by far the worst season in that department in franchise history. The 1982 club had just 11 interceptions.
Smoot, if he's on top of his game come the 2007 season, certainly can help improve in that very important statistical category.
After four years with the Redskins, Smoot departed via free agency and landed in Minnesota with an extremely lucrative deal. Smoot's tenure with the Vikings featured injuries, violations of team rules and a disorderly conduct charge stemming from the infamous boat party of October 2005.
Along with all of that, Smoot had three interceptions in two seasons with Minnesota.
"I thought it was a mistake leaving here," Smoot said on Sunday during his introductory press conference. "Like Coach Gibbs said, a lot of people don't get a second chance to make something right. I have a second chance to make it right."
In his first stint with the Redskins, Smoot was encircled by talented cornerbacks such as Green and Champ Bailey. Now that he's entering his seventh NFL campaign, the charismatic Smoot will be one of the veterans and he'll have to proceed in that context--both on the field and off of it.
"I am an emotional player and I love to play the game with my emotion," he said. "I never really got comfortable [in Minnesota]. I always felt like a step-child. Now I am back in my momma's house and I can feel good, comfortable and am ready to play football.
"A lot of stuff happened to me--my brother died, the boat situation, the car accident--and it humbled me a lot. I am going to live every day like my last and not take anything for granted."
He added: "Here, I play with a clear head. I promise you this: [fans] are going to get a Fred Smoot that has matured in a lot of ways and they will get a player that wants to win, point blank."
As a rookie, Smoot collected a career-high five interceptions and during his six seasons in the league he's shown the ability to pick off the passes of some of the NFL's top quarterbacks.
On Smoot's personal list are Green Bay's Brett Favre (2001, 2004), Tennessee's Steve McNair (two in a 2002 game), Indianapolis's Peyton Manning (2002), Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb (2003) and Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck (2003).
Looking ahead to 2007, he'll get a shot at the likes of Tony Romo, McNabb, Eli Manning, Matt Leinart, Favre and Tom Brady.
Smoot will, no doubt, bring a laugh or two to the Redskins' locker room in 2006. The Redskins' hope he'll bring a great deal more than that--specifically in the form of turnovers.