- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2004

When Lemar Marshall learned Washington Redskins teammate LaVar Arrington was undergoing surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee, the journeyman linebacker knew he would be thrust into the spotlight.

He just had no idea it would shine on him for so long.

Pressed into service when Arrington went down three weeks into the season, Marshall has started the last five games at weakside linebacker. And with this week’s revelation that Arrington’s return likely is another month away, Marshall knows he’ll retain his starting status for the immediate future.

“It’s been a great opportunity for me to get out there. I mean, you never expected LaVar to go down and be out this long,” said Marshall, who never had started an NFL game before this season. “Another month? I really don’t know. I know LaVar’s going to try to get back as soon as he can, so I just want to enjoy these next few weeks as much as I can.”

Primarily a special-teams player and occasional fill-in at linebacker during his previous two seasons in Washington, Marshall hardly resembles perennial Pro Bowl choice Arrington when he steps on the field. But the 27-year-old has held his own, and in last week’s loss to Green Bay he impressed the Redskins coaching staff by recording a career-high 10 tackles.

“He’s been impressive,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “I think he’s really seized the opportunity. He’s gotten a chance, and he’s made the most of it.”

An inch shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Arrington, Marshall isn’t a ferocious playmaker. There have been times during his five starts when fans probably didn’t even realize he was on the field.

But that’s not the way football coaches evaluate players. Sometimes simply being in the right position and not surrendering big plays is good enough.

“Put it this way: He’s not the reason we’ve lost games,” linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said. “He’s played well enough for us to have won, and I think he’s getting better with each week. Hopefully, it will continue.”

Fans and coaches alike noticed Marshall on one crucial play in last Sunday’s loss. With the Packers facing fourth-and-1 at the Washington 3 early in the second quarter, Marshall was called for pass interference in the end zone when he appeared to grab tight end David Martin on the back.

If not for the penalty, the Redskins would have taken over on downs. Instead, Green Bay kept possession, and on the next play Ahman Green scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Packers a 10-0 lead.

Chalk it up as another learning experience for Marshall.

“It was a legit call, and it was addressed,” Lindsey said. “The shame of it is, he had the guy covered, and he just did some things he didn’t have to do. His position was good enough that the guy couldn’t have caught the ball anyway. So if he had just stayed calm and [not grabbed Martin’s back], he’d have been fine.”

Aside from that, the Redskins have been pleased with Marshall’s play while Arrington is out. They’ll be asking the same of him tomorrow in Detroit and the following week at home against Cincinnati — a couple of games Marshall has had circled on his calendar for some time.

As a Cincinnati native, Marshall always has wanted to play against the Bengals. And as a Michigan State graduate, he can’t wait to make his first career appearance at the Lions’ Ford Field, where a host of family members and old college buddies will be watching.

After these two games close to his heart, Marshall doesn’t know what to expect. He could get a couple more starts before Arrington returns, but he knows ultimately he will be handing his position back to the superstar and returning to his more familiar role on special teams.

Until then, Marshall plans to just keep enjoying the experience.

“You never know what to expect in this league,” he said. “I’m just focusing on right now and giving the Washington Redskins all I’ve got. The future? We’ll worry about that later.”

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