- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2000

Heath Shuler missed a week, Michael Westbrook nearly a month and Desmond Howard almost the entire preseason. Redskins fans have plenty of experience with late-arriving No. 1 picks. But LaVar Arrington, who finally signed on the dotted line Saturday, seems a little different from the others if first impressions mean anything. His ego seems a little more outsized, his Self-Absorption Quotient a little higher.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. There's no substitute for self-confidence in sports, and it probably helps to think you're a little better than you are. Gets you through the tough times. It's just that Arrington now plays on the same team as Deion "Prime Time" Sanders, the Sultan of Self-Promotion, and Sanders may not be the greatest role model for a player with Arrington's propensities. If LaVar decides to apprentice himself to Deion, well, there may not be enough mustard in town to cover the two of them.
Arrington didn't wear a burgundy suit to Saturday's swearing in, but he was very snappily dressed. And his casual attitude toward offseason training missing an entire week to be with his newborn son, blowing off the five days of camp to see if he could extract a few more dollars from the Redskins suggests a player who thinks he's already a star.
If so, he was disabused of that notion in his first practice yesterday. James Jenkins, the 10-year veteran tight end, locked him up pretty good in blocking drills, knocking him to the ground on one occasion. Of course, you have to remember: Arrington hadn't had any contact work since the Alamo Bowl back in December, when he was ransacking offenses for Penn State. Still …
"I found out how good a blocker James Jenkins was today," he said afterward. "But that's part of the learning experience. When I saw James across from me, I thought: Well, I'm not going up against [starter] Stephen Alexander today; I should be able to get around him… . Nope.
"That's the difference [in the pros]. Everybody's good. In college a lot of guys are good. In high school not very many are good. In the NFL there's no dropoff [from starter to backup]."
When the club's lesser-lights scrimmaged at the end of practice, Arrington was withheld from action. Instead, he stood on the sideline and chatted with Darrell Green, Marco Coleman, Stephen Davis and assorted other dignitaries. It was a smart move on the Redskins' part, since LaVar is "nowhere near the football shape he needs to be in," in the opinion of defensive boss Foge Fazio.
"He's a long, long way away," said Fazio. "Because of all the time he's missed, he's really three or four weeks behind. You see the explosiveness [from LaVar], but you don't see the strength, the initial movement that you want. There's a little hesitation. But that's natural."
The Redskins are hoping Arrington is as competitive on the football field as he was at the negotiating table. His hemming and hawing in the final few days of contract talks was clearly a delaying tactic, an attempt to arm-twist the team into upping its offer one last time. How successful was he? Well, he wound up with a deal that's richer than the one Courtney Brown, the draft's first pick, got (when incentives are taken into account). If he dominates the way he did in the Big Ten, he could make more than $50 million.
Washington Times colleague Barker Davis, who watches more college football games than anyone I know, says Arrington is one of the best players he has ever seen a monster, a beast. And since Barker's scouting reports are reasonably reliable he's right easily 25 percent of the time I'm inclined to accept his judgment. It's the other stuff, the non-football stuff, that I worry about with Arrington the flamboyance, the apparent need for attention (which partially explains, I suspect, why his holdout dragged on).
For the past three years, you see, he has played for a coach Joe Paterno who isn't real big on individual expression. (Witness the Nittany Lions' uniforms, far and away the least stylish in major-college football.) But now the shackles have been taken off, and Arrington is free to be His Own Man. And he's with a team that could accomplish great things, ego-feeding things, in the very near future. How well will he handle it or will it handle him?
Chris Samuels, the Redskins' other first-round pick, is a much different personality type confident, but quietly so. Offensive linemen tend to be less obtrusive, anyway, but am I the only one who thinks Samuels' cleats are a little more firmly on the ground? If I could give Arrington one piece of advice as he heads out into the pro football world, it would be this: Less, LaVar, is sometimes more.

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