Arrington has Redskins playing follow the leader

In 2nd season, linebacker blossoming into team leader

Pro Football

October 26, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - It's tempting, in a way, to think of Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington's play as a work of art, subject to interpretation.

Two things are not up for discussion, namely the quality of the present piece of work, which has been superb of late, and the potential of the artist himself, which appears to be limitless.

But what is debatable is just how Arrington, 23, in his second season, is so much better this year.

The critics, most of whom were complimentary last year, seem to think Arrington has flourished this season by thinking less about what to do and just doing it.

"After that first year dies down and you realize you have to play to earn that money, you start to focus a little bit more, and, on the field, everything seems to be a little bit faster," New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "You're out there thinking too much; you're not reacting. Now, it looks like LaVar is reacting instead of thinking, and he's playing the way he did at Penn State."

Arrington agrees there is less guesswork, but only because he better understands the game.

"I'm always thinking. I just think I understand it more this year than I did last year, and because I understand it, I'm able to think faster on my feet, and I'm able to react a little bit faster than I did last year," Arrington said.

"I think the coaching staff has done a great job of utilizing my abilities. They've shown me that they have all the confidence in the world for me to perform. I've taken it and run with it, I guess."

Arrington, the second overall pick in last year's draft, was largely bottled up in the game plan of Ray Rhodes, last season's defensive coordinator. He didn't start until the third game of the season, against the Giants, Washington's opponent Sunday, and finished fifth on the team in tackles.

"I don't know what the reason was for the way I was used and treated, so to speak, last year," Arrington said. "But last year is last year. I'm definitely glad it's not here any more, and I'm glad that people are really having an opportunity to see the type of player that I am."

Indeed, Arrington has been unleashed in the scheme of new coach Marty Schottenheimer and his brother, Kurt, the defensive coordinator, and has taken advantage of the freedom.

"There's still some things that we're working with him to improve, and it's an ongoing process. But he has been every bit the player he was drafted to be over the course of the last three weeks," Marty Schottenheimer said. "I think that's because of his familiarity with what's going on."

Arrington, particularly in the past three weeks, has been dominant, with 27 tackles - 24 solo. His 67-yard touchdown off a brilliant fourth-quarter interception, was the spark for Sunday's 17-14 overtime win over the Carolina Panthers, Washington's only victory of the season.

Arrington's play, especially in the absence of injured defensive ends Marco Coleman (elbow) and Bruce Smith (shoulder) the past two weeks, has turned him into a go-to player in a locker room badly in need of one.

"At halftime, I told LaVar, `Man, you've been anointed as the leader of this defense. You're a young player, and you've got to step up and be that guy,' " linebacker Eddie Mason said. "And I believe that because he has the passion, he has the `want-to' and the ability to go out there and be that type of leader. And that's what he did, to make that play and that kind of interception. That was a defining moment for this team."

Arrington says the leadership mantle is still new to him.

"It seems like with all the injuries that we've had and the different things that I've done, it just seems like guys have looked to me or whatever," Arrington said. "I didn't ask for it. I didn't ask to be looked to. Do I accept it? Yeah. I want our team to do well, so whatever I can do, then that's what I have to do. If it adds extra responsibility and different things like that, then I accept it."

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