It's new team, same scheme for M. Lewis

Redskins: Marvin Lewis brings his defensive game plan to Washington, where he has circumstances and talent similar to what he had with the Ravens.

September 05, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Two years after Marvin Lewis forged a record-setting defense for the Super Bowl champion Ravens, the NFL's leading defensive mind is following a familiar script with the Washington Redskins.

Big-play linebackers, shut-down cornerbacks and zone blitzes are a few of the calling cards.

Controlling the line of scrimmage, winning third-down battles and forcing turnovers are the typical results.

All eyes will focus on Steve Spurrier's provocative offense this season, but knowing minds will pay attention to Lewis' defense, because that's where the Redskins' best chance for success lies.

One of Spurrier's first moves after becoming the Redskins' head coach last winter was to lure Lewis away from the Ravens with a wad of owner Daniel Snyder's money -- Lewis will make nearly $1 million this year as the NFL's highest-paid assistant -- and the opportunity to recreate his 2000 Super Bowl saga.

"It was tough for him to leave," Spurrier said. "Obviously, Mr. Snyder offered him a lot more money than he was making. ... But also, Marvin felt like if he could do with the Redskins what he did with the Ravens, that would just enrich his opportunity to be a head coach.

"I hope we have Marvin two years, but it wouldn't surprise me if he got a head-coaching job after this year."

Despite a defense that finished second in the league in total yards the past three seasons, Lewis missed out on all the head-coaching openings this off-season. His dual title with the Redskins is assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, and his control is complete. He can do with the defense whatever he pleases.

It will not be surprising if it ends up looking a lot like the Ravens' old defense. Lewis has two excellent cornerbacks in Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot, two massive tackles in Dan Wilkinson and Daryl Gardener, and three Pro Bowl linebackers in LaVar Arrington, Jessie Armstead and Jeremiah Trotter.

Already, the Redskins are intrigued with what they've seen.

"We do so many creative things that allow players to go out there and play," Wilkinson said. "Marvin always has something in the back of his mind. He's constantly searching for that weakness in the offense and he exploits it. That's basically what it is. He allows guys to go one-on-one and make plays."

Lewis had six former first-round draft picks in his starting Ravens unit. Assuming Gardener can overcome chronic back problems, the Redskins' defense will start six first-rounders as well.

The comparisons don't end there. Arrington, the strong-side linebacker, has the potential to have a Ray Lewis-like impact on the defense.

"They've got the ability to be as good as there is at their positions," Marvin Lewis said of the two.

This summer, Arrington said he wanted to be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. He should get the chance. A year ago under then-coach Marty Schottenheimer, Arrington rarely rushed the quarterback and more often defended against the tight end. In this defense, he will line up at a number of places with an opportunity to change the game.

The linebacking unit could be the best in the league if Armstead, a 10-year veteran cut by the New York Giants in February, still has plays left in him.

"I feel like as far as the potential we have, it's left up to us to dominate," Armstead said. "And we should dominate. We've just got to keep working hard."

Trotter, the middle linebacker, joined the Redskins after four years and two Pro Bowls with the Philadelphia Eagles. The coming together of the three players has been smooth, he said.

"We're friends on and off the field," Trotter said. "It's important that we continue to create a good bond where we can communicate and kind of get a feel for each other."

Said Lewis: "They're having to learn how to do it our way. They can't do it the way they did it in New York or Philadelphia. It's different here."

Lewis spent most of training camp breaking some of their old habits and creating new ones. The Redskins finished 10th in total defense a year ago, 20th against the run.

"We've laid the groundwork for everything," Lewis said. "We're going to be a better tackling team, we're going to run to the football, we're going to make things happen."

The Redskins appreciate the new approach. Wilkinson, entering his 10th season, says he's never played for anyone like Lewis.

"It's hard to explain," Wilkinson said. "When a person has a glow about them, oftentimes you can't put words on it. Marvin is a special guy and we're very fortunate to have him. I just don't know how long he's going to be here."

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