Smoot to Wear #21

CARLISLE, Pa.,--He got his old number. Now he wants his old spot. Fred Smoot finally made it to Redskins' training camp, practicing for the first time and wearing Deion Sanders' old number 21 jersey. It's what Smoot wanted, even if it means additional pressure.

After Sanders retired, Smoot called and talked to the Redskins' one-year corner. Like a godfather handing over reigns to the family, Sanders delivered his blessing to Smoot, saying he should wear his old number. ''He said he was going to hand the torch over to me,'' Smoot said. ''If he hands the torch to me, I'm going to keep the flame burning.'' First things first, Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer said. Make a play, then talk. That's what rookies should do in the NFL, especially ones who play for Schottenheimer.

''You get the job done then you have an opportunity to speak,'' Schottenheimer said. ''Otherwise you're better served just going about your business. That's what Fred needs to do right now. I don't want to dampen his enthusiasm, but his performance should precede conversation. But we're excited he's here and I'm not concerned about his personality at all--as long as he performs.''

Smoot's business yesterday meant participating in an NFL training camp for the first time. He signed a four-year deal worth approximately $2.6 million, ending his brief holdout. The second-round pick out of Mississippi State practiced with the third string defense, behind Darrell Green and Donovan Greer.

Nothing grand happened in his first day, save for a cut on his chin. Smoot said he didn't feel behind, but Schottenheimer said he's still learning exactly how the Redskins want things done.

''He has to get familiar with his environment,'' Schottenheimer said. ''That's a distraction. But the one thing [defensive coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer] and I talked about was that he appears to be a very instinctive player. If you have good instincts, that can accelerate the process.''

That acceleration could lead to a starting role as the Redskins didn't draft him to be a reserve. They picked him in the second round because scouts agreed that Smoot would have gone in the first round, if not for some off-field questions. So they know he has enough talent to start. Which, of course, Smoot agrees with.

''I know I can be a starter,'' he said. ''I won't say by Week One. But I will say I can be a starter. Soon.''

Smoot isn't worried about the attention he draws because of his personality. Nor is he concerned about any extra pressure he's putting on himself by wearing Sanders' old number.

To him, he's just wearing the jersey of the player he once idolized. Besides, his confidence is, um, a bit high.

His teammates ribbed him about wearing 21, telling him, ''that's a size 15 shoe, we hope you've got the foot to fit it.'' In other words, those are big shoes to fill. In Smoot's words, big deal. ''Hey, I've got Shaq shoes,'' he said. ''I love the pressure. Pressure is everything. It brings out the best in me.''


--Guard Derrick Fletcher, fighting for a starting job, has looked impressive. Tuesday, he constantly shoved rookie tackle Mario Monds out of the way, clearing holes. If Fletcher continues to block this way, it will be hard to keep him on the bench.

--Second-year tackle Chris Samuels looks even lighter on his feet than he did a year ago. There's a good reason for it: he is. Samuels weighed 330 pounds at this time last year; he's down to 290. He looks quicker and appears to be having his way with whoever he's facing.

--Receiver Michael Westbrook has had a strong start, making several nice catches against corner Champ Bailey. Westbrook has shown no ill effects from his knee surgery. He could be headed for a terrific season. If he stays healthy.

--Tight end Walter Rasby is a better receiver than Schottenheimer anticipated. The Redskins might run more two tight end sets than they expected because of it.

--Others who have looked good and are ones to watch: receiver Derrius Thompson; corner Central McLellion; running back Kenny Watson.


--No. 2 quarterback Todd Husak has not thrown very many sharp passes and too often they end up in the wrong hands. The real test for him will come in the first two preseason games. If he plays as he has practiced, Washington will be looking for a veteran to back up Jeff George.

--Defensive tackle Kenard Lang was moved inside to take advantage of his quickness. But one negative, and glaring, trait has followed him. He still stands too upright when taking on blockers, a tactic that will get him knocked back into the secondary during the season. He will help against the pass, but Washington needs more help against the run.

--Long snapper Ethan Albright struggled in the first few practices, reminding many of the departed Joe Zelenka by skipping snaps off the grass to the punters. Albright has not been as noticeable the past day, a good thing for a long snapper.

--Second-year corner Lloyd Harrison has shown nothing, save for a tendency to be beaten.

John Keim covers the Redskins for The Journal Newspapers and is a correspondent for Pro Football Weekly.

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