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T.O. Or Not, Springs Ready For Prime Time

Shawn Springs has competed against Terrell Owens since 1997, and the two have become friends over the years. With Owens listed as doubtful for Sunday's game between the Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, the highly anticipated, prime-time matchup between Owens and Springs could be postponed.

Of course, Owens played in Super Bowl XXXIX seven weeks after suffering a broken foot, so it's not out of the question that he could still play on Sunday.

"We're going to prepare for whoever is in there," Springs said on Wednesday. "I'm more familiar with T.O. because I've been playing against him since we've been in the league, so it might be easier for me versus T.O. as opposed to going against another receiver coming off the bench who's trying to prove himself. Sometimes those are the guys who give you a harder time."

Springs, who competed against Owens twice a year from 1997-2003 when he was in Seattle and Owens was in San Francisco, is in his second season in Washington.

After Seattle did little to re-sign the one-time Pro Bowl cornerback following the 2003 season, Springs came to Washington and crafted a dynamite year. He led the Redskins in interceptions and sacks in 2004, becoming the first defensive back in NFL history to accomplish that feat.

Springs has also developed into one of the leaders on the defense. So far this season, teams have often avoided throwing in his direction and he has 19 tackles and two passes defended so far this season.

"His leadership has been a lot stronger this year," safety Ryan Clark said. "Last year, he was trying to feel his way through with the new guys. But this year, he's in a total leadership role, which you would expect from a guy with his caliber athletically and with his experience. He's been a huge help to me, a huge help to the whole secondary. We feed off of him. When he plays well, we pretty much play well."

It's ironic that Springs dons the burgundy and gold. His father is former Cowboys running back Ron Springs, who played in Dallas from 1979 to 1984, a seminal period in the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. Of his top memories from the rivalry, Shawn Springs cites the indelible image of legendary Redskins cornerback Green coming out of nowhere to chase down Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett on a breakaway run in a 1983 Monday night game.

Springs moved to Maryland in the early-1990s and played tailback and cornerback at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring. He was an All-State selection. Around that time, his father became an assistant coach at Howard University, where the head coach, Steve Wilson, influenced Springs to focus on the cornerback position.

"Steve would work on me and say, 'Hey, you see this guy Deion Sanders, that's who you're going to be like,' " Springs said. "And he promised me, if I go to college and play corner, that I'll be one of the highest draft picks."

Wilson proved prophetic. After starring at Ohio State, once earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, Springs was picked third overall by Seattle in the 1997 draft. He intercepted 20 passes in seven seasons with the Seahawks. His biggest year was when he picked off seven and returned two for touchdowns in 1998; he made the Pro Bowl and was named to several All-Pro teams. But from 2001 to 2003, he missed 13 games, mostly due to injury.

Washington landed Springs on the second day of free agency in March 2004, and he was tapped to replace Champ Bailey, the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback whom the Redskins had traded to Denver for running back Clinton Portis. Springs inherited Bailey's number 24.

Springs immediately thrived in the imaginative attack-style system of assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams and his staff. He blitzed more than ever in 2004 and posted six sacks (tied with defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin for No. 1 on the team) to accompany a team-high five interceptions. His play was key to the Redskins' defense finishing No. 3 in the league.

As for 2005, Springs said the health of his father, who receives dialysis three times a week and needs a kidney transplant, has emboldened him to have his best season ever. What are his personal goals?

"I put up personal goals meaning I do want to play better than I played the year before," he said. "But stat-wise, I don't really talk about it because usually when I'm playing my best, my stats are lower. In the past when I had my best years, I didn't have good stats because I didn't get as many balls. More so for me, I just want to see the team win. If the team wins, I'm happy."

All the while, Springs is striving to elevate his game to another level. To do so, he has turned to the Redskins' all-time leader in interceptions with 54, Darrell Green.

"I get to talk to him all the time," Springs said. "I humble myself in the presence of a guy like him because you can learn so much. As a matter of fact, I work out with Darrell in the offseason. He teaches me. I try to learn from him off the field as well. For my foundation (for underprivileged kids), I asked him to speak at one of my events. He showed up and supported me. So I get the best of both worlds. It's kind of like, being a little kid, you say this is who I want to be like as a grown man. I want to be like him on and off the field."

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