'Skins give M. Lewis familiar recipe for defense

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

May 05, 2002|By KEN MURRAY

The similarities are almost eerie. In his new job, Marvin Lewis has linebackers with Pro Bowl pedigrees, cornerbacks who excel in bump-and-run coverage, and pass rushers adept at crunching a quarterback.

In his old job, Lewis whipped this very same formula into a defensive feeding frenzy that resulted in a Super Bowl rout for the Ravens two years ago. Can Lewis, the Washington Redskins' new defensive coordinator and the NFL's highest-paid assistant, re-create the league's best defense?

Why not? He has virtually all the same ingredients. He has team owner Dan Snyder's financial commitment and coach Steve Spurrier's blessing. He has one of the league's most dynamic players in linebacker LaVar Arrington. And last month, he landed middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, one of the most coveted free agents of the off-season.

Trotter was eager to join the Redskins for the chance to torment his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles, twice a year in the NFC East. He's not exactly Ray Lewis, but then who is?

"Great work ethic, tremendous player," Marvin Lewis said of Trotter. "Great leadership qualities. He brightens up the whole building. He can do similar things to Ray. But I'm not going to ask him to be Ray Lewis. He wants to be Jeremiah Trotter."

Trotter has gone to the past two Pro Bowls. Arrington went for the first time last season, despite the fact the team rarely let him rush the passer. Jessie Armstead, who signed with the Redskins after getting cut by the New York Giants, has gone to five straight. That's eight Pro Bowls for three playmakers.

Put cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot behind them, and defensive linemen Bruce Smith and Dan Wilkinson in front, and you have a potential buzzsaw. Add free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams, and you might have history repeating itself. Adams, remember, was the final piece of the Ravens' defensive puzzle in 2000. Reportedly, he's seeking an $8 million signing bonus, which is why he remains unsigned.

"I want the best for Sam," Lewis said. "I tell him, `Don't be stupid. Don't back yourself into a corner and say you're not going to play for less than this [amount].' "

Sign Adams, and it might not matter who Spurrier plays at quarterback. But then, Marvin Lewis has been there before, too.

Starting over

Jack Del Rio was the defensive coordinator-in-waiting in Baltimore. He was waiting for Marvin Lewis to land a head coaching job. When the bottom dropped out on Lewis in the off-season - and before Lewis joined the Redskins - Del Rio accepted the coordinator's job under John Fox with the Carolina Panthers.

Now, as fate would have it, Del Rio's first regular-season game as coordinator will come against the Ravens at Charlotte on Sept. 8.

"It will be special to open as a coordinator," Del Rio said, "and it will be special to open against the Ravens, who obviously have a lot of players and coaches I have a great deal of affection for."

Del Rio inherited a defense that allowed 6.04 yards a play on first down and finished last in total yards and rush yards allowed.

"We need to add talent, and we've begun that process," he said. "We need to change the mentality. Anytime you lose 15 in a row, you have problems. We're basically blowing it up and going back to the drawing board."

Stretching the board

A year ago, when they overhauled their defense, the St. Louis Rams had perhaps the best draft in the NFL. This year, attempting to find a few role players, they reached with almost every pick.

Their first-round choice, linebacker Robert Thomas of UCLA, was their best pick, despite the fact he had second-round grades. They'll have him compete with Tommy Polley (Dunbar) on the weak side. After that, the Rams' draft turned bizarre.

In the second round, they took cornerback Travis Fisher of Central Florida, even though he was not deemed worthy of being invited to the NFL scouting combine or the Senior Bowl.

In the third round, they took running back Lamar Gordon of Division II North Dakota State.

They also drafted offensive guard Travis Scott of Arizona State in the fourth round, even though he played only 13 major-college games.

And they took two quarterbacks - both of whom will be moved to new positions. Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska, the third-round pick, will play wide receiver. And Ohio State's Steve Bellisari, taken in the sixth round, will become a safety.

Two-minute drill

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