Fred Smoot has always considered himself to be a "throwback player." So when the Redskins gather for this weekend's mini-camp at Redskins Park, Smoot has no doubt that head coach Joe Gibbs can readjust to the NFL after being away from the game for 11 years--no matter what challenges Gibbs faces along the way.
"Coach Gibbs is a natural," Smoot said at Redskins Park this week. "He hasn't been coaching football, but he's been coaching his racing team. That takes discipline, precision and everybody doing their job and not trying to do somebody else's job. So he's still been in coaching; it's just been in a different sport.
"Once a natural, always a natural--I think Coach Gibbs will get right back on course. I don't think he'll fall off at all."
Smoot and most his teammates have returned to Redskins Park this week for mini-camp, which officially starts Friday with a practice, meetings and weight room sessions.
Gibbs has said that this mini-camp will mostly be about building relationships between coaches and players. It shouldn't be difficult for Gibbs to form a bond with the always affable Smoot.
"I have talked to him a couple of times [prior to this week]," Smoot said. "But you really don't learn about a coach until you practice and until the heat is on in a game. I'm sure it'll be the same for him. He's all about winning, so I'm ready to follow him--point blank."
Despite entering his fourth NFL season, Smoot finds himself as the most senior member of the Redskins' cornerbacks. Shawn Springs, a seven-year veteran signed as a free agent earlier this month, is expected to replace Pro Bowl corner and Smoot's close friend Champ Bailey, traded to the Denver Broncos in the March 3 Clinton Portis deal.
Newcomers Walt Harris, an eight-year veteran, and Ralph Brown, a fourth-year player, join holdovers Rashad Bauman and Ade Jimoh to round out a cornerback rotation that should have solid depth heading into training camp.
Smoot said he is looking forward to playing in Gregg Williams' aggressive defensive scheme. Williams, assistant head coach for the defense, does not designate a No. 1 or No. 2 cornerback in his scheme, instead relying on multiple cornerback sets and an aggressive style to disrupt offenses.
Last year, Smoot came into his own as a player, overcoming several injuries to become a leader on and off the field. In Week 6, he suffered a bruised sternum that forced him to miss one game. He came back after the Redskins' mid-season bye and played through obvious pain.
Smoot's efforts were rewarded when he was named the Redskins' Ed Block Courage Award winner. He was also named the Redskins' Quarterback Club Player of the Year for a season that included 58 tackles and four interceptions.
With the four interceptions, Smoot became the first Redskin player in team history to individually lead the team in interceptions for three consecutive seasons. (Norb Hecker led the Redskins three straight seasons from 1955-57, but tied Don Shula for the team lead in 1957.)
Despite all the changes in player and coaching personnel, Smoot is eager to put last season behind him and focus on forging a bond with many of the new faces at Redskins Park.
Change is practicially a way of life in the NFL and Smoot recognizes that every year, new relationships are formed.
"You're just not going to get a Darrell Green anymore--you're not going to look at No. 28 over there for 20 straight years," he said. "If you win a Super Bowl one year, you might not have that same team the next year. So you have to go build new relationships every year."
On Thursday evening, Gibbs will address the team for the first time during a team meeting and dinner.
"I think coach Gibbs will just be himself," Smoot said. "That's all you can ask of a person. That's the best way to build a relationship. Be yourself."