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Springs Has It Covered

Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs is a guy who likes to dabble in Latin. So imagine Springs' reaction, then, when the NFL schedule was announced earlier this year. He must have circled Sept. 27 with a note that said "carpe diem," or some such phrase.

Springs and his new teammates hope to seize the day when they host the Dallas Cowboys in the second of two straight NFC East challenges for the Redskins.

Week 3 brings a Monday Night audience to FedExField. It brings Redskins versus Cowboys, as if that needs any further illumination. And it brings the first Joe Gibbs versus Bill Parcells coaching face-off since October of 1990.

Of course, there's something more involved for Springs, the 6-0, 204-pound eight-year veteran out of Ohio State.

Washington-Dallas games have always been taxing for Springs. On the one hand, he was born in Williamsburg, Va., and grew up in Silver Spring, Md. So he's pretty much rooted in Redskins lore.

On the other hand, as all devotees of the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry can attest, his father Ron was a running back with the Cowboys between 1979 and 1984.

Tonight, though, Springs will be singularly focused. He and fellow cornerback Fred Smoot will do their best to shut down Cowboy receivers.

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 faces a new challenge with the Redskins--adjusting to life in the NFC East.

"I'm excited," he says. "I haven't felt like this since coming out of college. It's definitely refreshing. It's a tough, physical division here in the NFC East. You have all of those old-school coaches."

It didn't take Springs long to make his presence felt with his new team. In the pre-season opener, the Hall of Fame game versus Denver in Canton, Ohio, Springs picked off a Jake Plummer pass in the early stages of a game the Redskins would eventually win 20-17.

Across from Springs is Fred Smoot, the Redskins' always affable cornerback. He has played alongside a No. 24 in the Redskins' secondary ever since his rookie season in 2001. It was with Champ Bailey for the last three seasons. Now Springs has stepped in, donning No. 24 to form a new Redskins' cornerback duo. When Bailey was traded to Denver this offseason for running back Clinton Portis, Springs was acquired to join Smoot and provide veteran leadership for the defense.

In the early going, the transition has gone rather smoothly. Smoot put it this way: "I can say that I've been fortunate to be around great corners my entire career. It's a blessing."

Smoot is paired with a player who made the Pro Bowl in 1998 after intercepting seven passes and returning two for touchdowns.

The former Buckeye Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (1996) said that he and Smoot have grown close since March and that he expects the trend to manifest itself on the field.

"We have a great working relationship," Springs said. "I feel comfortable with him over there."

After benefiting from the teachings of Bailey and Green, Smoot doesn't hesitate to seek advice from his new compatriot. In Springs, Smoot has access to an NFL veteran who started playoff games in 1999 and 2003 and has 20 career interceptions with two touchdowns.

Said Smoot: "If I can get something out of his head, I'll take it with me on the field. Shawn's a veteran cornerback who's been in the league a while, and I'm not one who is scared to learn."

In the early stages of the 2004 season, teammates have noticed the pair's influence on the defense.

"Both of those guys are leaders," safety Matt Bowen said. "I've learned a lot from them. Our corners are a lot more vocal this year. Everyone is starting to see things as a group, and having those two players at corner is great for our defense."

In his regular-season debut as a Redskin, Springs played a solid game as Washington held Tampa Bay to just 169 yards passing. He had four tackles and Smoot came up with six in a 16-10 win in Joe Gibbs' return to the NFL.

Last week, in New York, Springs added four tackles and a first-quarter sack of Giants quarterback Kurt Warner. Springs came in on a cornerback blitz and forced a fumble on the play. The Giants recovered.

In Monday night's game against the Cowboys, Springs hopes to help the Redskins begin to reverse a dismal stretch in the NFL's most prominent rivalry. The Redskins have won just one time in the last 13 meetings.

The secondary expects to be tested again tonight. Veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw for 355 yards in the Cowboys' 35-17 road loss to Minnesota on Week 1. Testaverde, 29-for-50, found Keyshawn Johnson nine times for 111 yards.

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