Shawn Springs knows what to expect from Terrell Owens, both as a player and as a showman. The two squared off against each other several times the last few seasons when Springs was a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks and Owens a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers.
They renew their rivalry on the east coast this Sunday when the Redskins travel to Philadelphia for a NFC East game.
Springs has been one of the Redskins' top playmakers all season, but only recently has he begun to garner acclaim. With the Redskins' defense among the best in the league, Springs has been mentioned as a Pro Bowl candidate.
Through nine games, Springs has 42 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions.
"I think the fact that he has himself in great shape, and he worked hard to battle through the nicks, pulls and bruises that he getting in the other seasons, has kept him playing at a high level," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "This offseason he put some really hard work in and I think he wanted to send a message. He fits in with a bunch of the guys we have here, because they're all playing with a chip on their shoulders."
Springs will be under the microscope this Sunday as he and Fred Smoot gear up to stop Owens, the Eagles' flashy receiver who has 55 receptions for 884 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Springs, always an easy-going player, has avoided some media interview requests this week, preferring to focus on the challenge that lies ahead.
Leave it to the always loquacious Smoot to put in a word on Owens.
"We're looking forward to the challenge," Smoot said. "There are a lot of great receivers on our schedule this season, and T.O. just happens to be one of them. Anytime I get the chance to go up against a player like that, that's what I want."
Springs signed with the Redskins as a free agent last March. For the 6-0, 204-pound eight-year NFL veteran, it was homecoming of sorts. He grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and starred at Springbrook High School before heading off to Ohio State, where he was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1996.
Week 3 of this season, when the Redskins hosted Dallas in an NFC East challenge before a Monday Night audience, also was a special occasion for Springs. Redskins-Cowboys games always have been taxing for Springs. He grew up in suburban, Washington, D.C., but his father Ron was a running back with the Cowboys between 1979 and 1984.
After playing for seven seasons in Seattle, the organization that drafted him in the first round of the 1997 NFL draft with the third overall pick, Springs is adjusting to life in the NFC East.
When Bailey was traded to Denver this offseason for running back Clinton Portis, Springs was acquired to join Fred Smoot at corner and provide veteran leadership for the defense. Now Smoot is paired with a player who made the Pro Bowl in 1998 after intercepting seven passes and returning two for touchdowns.
Said Williams: "He thought he had something to prove, also coming in and replacing a very good football player that left."
Through his first six games with the Redskins, the player who in effect was brought in to replace perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey had been a steady contributor week-in and week-out. Springs recorded interceptions versus Baltimore's Kyle Boller and Green Bay's Brett Favre, and sacks versus Chicago's Jonathan Quinn, Boller and Kurt Warner of the New York Giants.
The sack against Quinn was unheralded, but it was key in leading the Redskins to a 13-10 win in Week 6.
The Bears, trailing by just three points, had great field position and were in the midst of a potentially promising drive. Then, in one of the game's swing plays, Quinn dropped back to pass on a third-and-8 from the Chicago 47-yard line. Before Quinn could pick out a receiver, Shawn Springs was in his face.
Having come clean on a blitz from his left cornerback position, Springs was able to stop Quinn in his tracks. The play with 2:36 left in the game was key as the Redskins got a much-needed 13-10 win.
But his role in the defense masterminded by Williams has more often than not been one of the covering the opponent's top receiver. To get into the mix in the sack department is basically something new for Springs. In his first seven seasons in the league with Seattle, Springs totaled just 1.5 sacks, both of them coming last year. He's doubled that figure in just six games with his new team.
"Coach Williams is going to create a lot of pressure," Springs said earlier this year. "As a cornerback, you might be on an island one-on-one sometimes, but with Coach Williams, the quarterback isn't going to have all day to sit back there and pick out his receiver."
Michael Strahan's single-season sack record isn't in jeopardy but at the same time Springs has shown in back-to-game versus Baltimore and Chicago that he's capable of being a real problem for opponents in newfound ways. He's added a facet to his game this season, the ability to blitz off the edge and get to the opposing quarterback.