- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

With an outgoing personality, a unique combination of speed and power and a determination to play through injuries and team failures, linebacker LaVar Arrington is emerging as a leader of the Washington Redskins.
The process is still in its early stages. Arrington, the draft's second overall pick in 2000, is just 23 and only about a month into his second professional season. But several Redskins defensive veterans acknowledge in private conversations that the transformation is happening.
Arrington's most recent game was the best of his young career, statistically (12 tackles) if not empirically. He played with enthusiasm and emotion, often delivering his trademark crunching hits to New York Giants ballcarriers or chasing them down from behind.
That performance came less than two weeks after Arrington partially tore an MCL in a loss at Green Bay. Such an injury normally sidelines a player 2-to-4 weeks, but Arrington returned to practice Thursday and showed no sign of sluggishness in the 23-9 loss at New York.
The overall defensive performance likely was Washington's best in this disappointing season. The opponent finally did not have a 100-yard rusher (though reserve Damon Washington finished with a solid 90 yards), and the Giants frequently were stopped in key situations. The effort came with weakside linebacker Shawn Barber out for the season, left end Marco Coleman sidelined and right end Bruce Smith injured on the unit's first snap.
Those three players are considered the defense's key leaders. In their absences leadership came from several others, including linemen Kenard Lang and Dan Wilkinson, strong safety Sam Shade and veteran reserve cornerback Darrell Green.
But the contributions of Arrington, in terms of rallying teammates with his playmaking and emotion, are becoming significant. A struggling rookie just a year ago, he acknowledges he was forced to mature quickly following the ACL tear Sept. 30 of Barber, his closest friend and on-field mentor.
"I didn't really have to do anything with him out there," Arrington said. "I always relied on him. I knew what I had to do, but I'd always look over and he was there. But all of a sudden I'm looking over at [the new starter, undrafted rookie] Antonio [Pierce], and I'm saying, 'I ain't got my guy out here with me.'
"[Before] I didn't really rely on myself; I relied on him. I've had to grow up quick."
Laying the foundation for Arrington's growing leadership is the inspiring manner in which he plays.
"He's only a second-year player, but anytime you're that kind of playmaker, you have a chance at a leadership role," coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
The coming months and years will determine whether Arrington fully grasps the role. For now, teammates are convinced he will make big plays and show consistent enthusiasm.
"He's always full-go," Wilkinson said. "It's a nonstop motor. He's a big-play guy. What he does [on the field], he has the potential to do that every play. We need that because right now we're short on depth and on guys period."
Arrington's plays Sunday included chasing down Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer on an end-around, nearly ripping off Washington's head on a sweep and blitzing and pressuring passer Kerry Collins into a throwaway.
Contributing to each was swiftness, a quality that impresses teammates. But it is the force with which Arrington hits that truly inspires. On Monday night he returns to Dallas, where last season he served up a final concussion for Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. This season the hard hits are more frequent, and teammates are responding.
"Oh yeah, that gets me happy," said Lang, who himself is on his way to enjoying a career year. "That's what I want to see all the time. I kept on asking him in the huddle [Sunday], 'Am I going to see one of those big hits pretty soon?' He got a few here and there, and it just started rolling. That should continue through the season. That was no one-day thing."
As Arrington makes plays with speed and power, coaches are calling on him more in the scheme. Against the Giants he played the "bandit," Barber's old role in pass coverage, and on third downs he was in a three-point stance as the left end.
Now Arrington can complete his transition into a leader with vocal influence. That also seems to be starting: On Sunday he went around and congratulated each of his fellow defenders on what he viewed as a gritty effort. There could be more of that in weeks to come and perhaps eventually a role in speaking to the team as a group.
Lending credence to any words of encouragement will be Arrington's underlying refusal to quit in this season of frustration, an inarguable quality of any leader.
"I'm not going to walk around with my head down," Arrington said in a statement typical of many he has made this year. "I'm a fighter. That's the only way I know. If I'm going to play this sport, I'm going to fight."

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