10 most pivotal Redskins in 2003

There is no question that Fred Smoot had a textbook case of the sophomore slump in 2002. Although he led the team in interceptions with four, it was clear that he wasn't as effective in coverage as he had been in his 2001 rookie season.

Several theories have developed as to why the drop-off in performance occurred. One is that opposing teams threw to his side frequently due to the presence of Champ Bailey, one of the top cover corners in the game, on the other side of the field. Another is that Smoot had trouble adjusting to his second defensive scheme in as many years in the league.

There were other thoughts advanced as well. Some questioned his dedication and conditioning. Other, darker rumors spread about the team questioning Smoot's lifestyle off the field. There were several reports—all of which were denied by the team--that the Redskins were dangling Smoot as trade bait to get a second- or third-round pick in the draft or perhaps to move up from the second into the first round. The trades never happened and, while there's no solid evidence that there was any fire, there was plenty of smoke.

How will Smoot take the offseason talk? Can he put it aside and go on as though nothing happened (since nothing really did)? Will he take it as a challenge and push himself in conditioning and preparation to prove the naysayers wrong? Or will he find himself moping and feeling unappreciated and unwanted?

The result will be critical to the success of the Redskins 2003 defense. The pass rush might decent, but it is unlikely to severely disrupt opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis. That will place the burden on the coverage and Smoot will have to stay with his receiver. If he can, it will mean a lot of three and outs for the other team. If not, the scoring machine that Steve Spurrier is assembling with have to be effective early and often for the Redskins to succeed.

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