- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

After two weeks of shrugging off missed practices and his substandard conditioning, Washington Redskins rookie linebacker LaVar Arrington got serious in his self-evaluation and the result was scathing.

"To be blunt, I sucked [in Friday's preseason opener]," Arrington said yesterday. "I promised my family and my football family that I won't ever have a showing like that again."

Arrington's admission began a contrite interview with a group of reporters at Redskin Park. For the first time, the 22-year-old seemed to shed his mechanism of brash self-defense.

"I plan on making some huge strides from that game," Arrington said. "There's no looking back, no turning back. In the future, I think I'll prepare a little bit different."

Arrington's new self-opinion came from a long talk Friday night with his parents, Michael and Carolyn, who watched the 13-12 loss at Tampa Bay on television from Pittsburgh.

"My mom said, 'You played bad. You played like a [wimp],' " Arrington said. "My dad said, 'You've got to step it up.' Those are my best critics. They told me what I need to know. So from here on out LaVar won't be called a [wimp] by his mother."

Arrington has played second-string for the Redskins ever since he missed a week of quarterback school in June for the birth of his first child. Arrington then missed six days of training camp for a contract dispute. Fourth-year veteran Greg Jones has played well in Arrington's place.

Linebackers coach Foge Fazio made clear that Arrington has a lot of work to do before being promoted back into the starting lineup, but added, "there's enough time."

"Let's just say he's not ready to go out and start [the Sept. 3 opener]," Fazio said. "Luckily for us … we've got two more weeks of training camp, and then we've got three preseason games, and maybe that will be enough to get him in position where we can [start him]."

Fazio was impressed with several of Arrington's plays Friday night, including the chasing down of a screen pass from behind and several open-field tackles. And Fazio didn't even mind the LaVar Leap hurdling the line on a short-yardage play that missed.

"He had about four or five nice plays," Fazio said. "Naturally when you see him stumbling around, trying to get somebody, looking like Ichabod Crane out there, everyone [focuses on] that."

Fazio didn't need to give Arrington much criticism when the two met Sunday morning to review the game film. Arrington, of course, had spoken with his parents and was well aware of how out-of-shape he had looked.

"He couldn't get his breath [in the game]," Fazio said. "When you're fatigued like that, you're going to make a lot of mental errors, and you're going to look bad as hell… . There were some plays out there, he didn't look too good, and he knew it. [On Sunday] he put his hands over his face. He said right off the bat, before I had a chance to say a word, 'I was terrible.' "

Part of Friday's inconsistency, Arrington said yesterday, was nerves. Playing on the same field as Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks, one of Arrington's idols, made the rookie "real keyed up."

Teammates believe Arrington sometimes takes the game too seriously. They say they tease him in part to dull his edge and help him relax.

"We have a good time with him," veteran defensive end Marco Coleman said. "[Playing football] is work, but at the same time you've got to find a way to relax. His motor's running so fast he kind of tenses up a little bit. I told him to act like he's at Penn State again."

But Arrington knows that no amount of relaxing can compensate for conditioning. He acknowledged that he showed up at camp in less-than-ideal shape.

"I thought I was preparing well, but obviously as coaches say, there's nothing like preparing with the team," Arrington said. "I guess being in such a structured place like Penn State, where you spend the whole summer with them, I guess I took that for granted. I thought running on my own and doing drills on my own would be enough. I don't think it was enough."

Now, Arrington said, "I don't think I'm too far off."

Meanwhile, Arrington's maturity seems to have hit stride.

"I think he had a wake-up call," Fazio said. "And that's the price you pay [when] you miss a lot of minicamp, you miss a lot of training camp. That shows you what happens… . It takes a long time to catch up, and we knew that coming in."

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