This Sunday, a group of burgundy and gold clad fans, and one laughably out-of-place intrepid Cowboys fan, joined together for the first Hogs Haven away game watch party at the beautiful new Nouvelle in Tysons Corner. In addition to an abundance of adult beverages and Shake Shack burgers, we were lucky enough to be joined by "Mouth of the South," Fred Smoot with the help of our own Harrison Weinhold. The former Redskins defensive back (2001-'04, '07-'09) held court, offering up some nuggets of wisdom on everything from millennials to his future as a professional bowler.
At the urging of our noble leader Ken, I made the trip down to McLean take in the afternoon’s festivities (and to celebrate my birthday!) Upon entering the spacious room full of comfy seating, I immediately picked Smoot out of the crowd from his trademark southern drawl. Ever the gracious host, Harrison introduced us and I thought to myself that, if I could tell my 16 year-old self that I would be spending my 26th birthday, watching the Redskins and drinking beer with Fred Smoot, teenage Bryan would have been pretty impressed.
The game started off a little bit slow, and Smoot had plenty to say about the feel of the room:
"Y’all millennials can’t get excited unless you can put a picture on social media of what you’re doing for your friends. But right now, I feel like if I could send a text about our defensive effort, it would just be that poop emoji."
Coming into this week, there was certainly concern from fans and in the media about the state of the squad, but having been in a similar situation during his time on the Redskins, Smoot was nonplussed.
Hogs Haven: "You’ve been on 0-2 teams before, so what’s it like being on a winless team in week 3? Is there a feeling of panic or a sense that this week is it a must-win game?"
Fred Smoot: "I’ve been on 0-2 teams, but you don’t want to put the pressure on yourself because things can fall apart quickly. My rookie year we started 0-5 and still ended up winning eight games that year. We turned it around when we started to relax, get back to basics, and play fundamental football. If the coaches are not on the same wavelength as the players and vice versa, it’s an issue."
Early on in the first quarter, Bashaud Breeland departed the contest with an ankle injury. Smoot, though, was excited for the young cornerback's future prospects.
HH: "People were very high on Breeland coming into this season but he’s taken his lumps over the course of the first couple of weeks, particularly when he was lined up against Antonio Brown in week 1. What’s your sense of where he is right now?"
Smoot: "People put a lot on him already, but he’s going to be fine. I think he’s developing. He could be in that next group of great corners in the league. Breeland has great ball skills, and sure, he had a bad first week but that’s a function of the defensive play calling. They didn’t do him any favors, but he’s the one who’s taken a lot of the blame.
"The Steelers didn’t have their starting running back, or their starting tight end, but what they did have was a hall of fame quarterback and a hall of fame wide receiver. The Redskins were out-coached that game, and not enough was done to take away their top talent."
He reflected on the criticism Breeland faced after that week one matchup:
Smoot: "Now it’s overly simple to say ‘oh, just have Norman shadow Brown’ because when you have a quarterback like Ben, or Tom Brady, and they see a particular DB is following one wideout, it undresses the rest of the defense because they’ll know immediately when we’re in man-to-man or when we’re blitzing or when we’re playing zone."
HH: "Are there teams in the league right now that you think do that particularly well that the Redskins should be emulating?"
Smoot: "Look at a team like Seattle. Richard Sherman is going to play his one side where his assignment is, he plays on the strong side and you know he’ll take away the area he’s responsible for. In that game, they should have had D-Hall over the top helping out Breeland, but instead they didn’t scheme well enough to help him out."
From his perspective, the issues are less with the defensive backfield, but stem largely from a "lack of meat up front" along the defensive line:
HH: "A lot has been made of the struggles in stopping the run in the first few weeks. What can they do to try to fix that over the next 13 weeks?"
Smoot: "Football is won in the trenches. The fat boys dominate the game and we only go as far as they take us. I love the fat boys on the offensive line, though we could use a little more depth in the middle, but they can win with those guys. When it comes to the line, I think they have to get some more consistency."
When asked who could possibly fix those front seven concerns, Smoot did not hesitate, "Pot Roast [Terrance Knighton] is sitting at home, I don’t know why they won’t give him a call. We don’t need superstars, but they need to get a little hungrier."
On the day, the Redskins rushing woes continued, as they netted just 90 yards on 30 carries, much to the chagrin of many of our assembled watch-party faithful. One fan asked if perhaps the team should look for someone not on an active roster, and brought up Ray Rice. Smoot seemed receptive to the idea:
Smoot: "Man, he’s hungry, all he wants is an opportunity to play. You can’t tell me he wouldn’t make this team better if he can prove he’s in game shape. I know he’s been working out but being fit and being in game shape are two entirely different things."
But when it came to off-the-field issues, he considered his own unique perspective from his playing days:
Smoot: "It’s so easy to judge a guy at their worst moment, he made a huge mistake and he’s still paying for it. There have been other guys who have done what he’s done, but they got a second chance. I feel bad Ray’s not getting that same opportunity. It’s tough man, you give a 25-year-old a million dollars when they haven’t had money before and you see what happens."
"Oh look, he knocked that one down with his good hand" Smoot laughed as Jason Pierre-Paul batted a ball out of the air as the clock wound down at the end of the second quarter.
Shortly thereafter, perhaps the highlight of the day came from Tress Way, who completed a long pass down the sideline to Quinton Dunbar on a fake punt pass that brought those in attendance to their feet.
"Tress Way, man," said Smoot, "He’s a true baller."
The drive stalled at the Giants 7-yard-line and Dustin Hopkins converted on his fourth of five field goals on the day, on a seamless snap from Nick Sundberg and hold from Way, which brought up the topic of enigmatic special teamers:
HH: "People tend to only remember snappers and holders when they’ve done something noteworthy which is rarely a good thing. Do you have any memories of those guys who played with you on the Redskins?"
Smoot: "Back in ‘07 we had Ethan Albright, ‘The Red Snapper.’ He was a true character, but he was not an athlete at all. Man we had a good laugh when he got that Madden rating as the worst player in the league. He was not happy but I don’t think they were too far off on how they rated him."
On the ensuing Giants drive, the Giants were set up in Redskins territory due to an unnecessary roughness call on Josh Norman for a high hit on Sterling Shepard across the middle of the field, to which Smoot shook his head in disgust.
HH: "With the increased emphasis on reducing hits to the head, a lot of which has happened after you retired, how has that affected the way the game is played for guys at your position in the defensive backfield?"
Smoot: "This league right now, they’re making it nearly impossible to be a defensive player. You can’t hit high, you can’t hit low. It’s such a passing league, they’re totally taking away everything a defensive player can do these days."
Dunbar continued his stellar day with a one-handed interception on the goal line, and Smoot reflected on this iteration of the defensive backfield, and compared them with some of his former teammates:
Smoot: "I played with some great cornerbacks in my time in the league. Champ [Bailey], [Shawn] Springs, Carlos [Rogers], D-Hall… But pound for pound, the most underrated cornerback of all time is Antoine Winfield. We still stay in touch and chat all the time. Dude was a beast."
"The guys on this team, they stack up with some of those guys talent for talent, but you have to start with the bottom before you go to the top. When your third corner is Greg Toler that says a lot." Fred continued, "You’ve got D-Hall who is a borderline Hall of Famer, if you want to know the truth. As a defensive back, we’re only at the mercy of our D-Line, we can only play as well as the front is."
After Su’a Cravens’ late interception locked up the win for the Redskins, Smoot hung around, posing for pictures (including one with our lone Cowboys fan who didn’t reveal his rooting interests in the game), and answered a bevy of rapid-fire queries on a variety of topics from the crowd that remained after the final gun.
On music: "I’m a soulful guy, I love Marvin Gay."
On trash talking: "I always had to prepare for the guys I was going to match up against. Nothing was off limits, not their girlfriend, not their momma, not their aunties. I was always jawing at guys trying to get in their heads. The best one who gave it back to me had to be Chad [Johnson]. He was right up there with me."
On facing the Giants: "I remember one time we were playing against the Giants, and it snowed so hard the fans came and helped shovel out the stadium because it was a super massive blizzard. Me and 'Bluefoot' [Shawn Springs] were on the field and I remember walking back to the huddle. They had just ran Brandon Jacobs off tackle, and I tackled him, and he’s a big dude. So I go to the huddle and go ‘hey man, look at that huddle over there, the Giants are actually giants!"
"They had Jacobs who was 6’4" 280 pounds, Eli [Manning] is 6’5", Plaxico [Burress] is 6’6", Jeremy Shockey is 6’6", the whole team was just huge! Amani Toomer is the smallest guy and he’s 6’3", they were flat out huge and we were out there battling them in the snow."
On going viral: "Before me, no one knew about running through the okra patch. I should get some sort of a sponsorship with a okra farmer, and have people go out and run through the field like they do with those corn mazes in the fall, but it could be in the shape of my face or something."
On his current athletic endeavors: "I’m a bowler and a golfer. I like sports now that you can drink while you play and you get better as the game goes on. Now that I’m done with football I’m thinking about going pro at bowling, gonna bring the flair to the [Professional Bowlers Association.] They’re all too serious out there, I want to go out and trash talk some of those guys."
"I’m the best bowler from southern Virginia to northern Maryland, I can beat anyone who takes me on."
In addition to picking up the first win of the season, let’s chalk the day up as a win for everyone who made it out to Nouvelle for a great afternoon of fandom and fellowship with Hogs Haven and Redskin-for-life, Fred Smoot.