- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

He doesn’t have the intensity of predecessor Antonio Pierce. Nor does he have the verve of Marcus Washington to his left or the athletic gifts of LaVar Arrington to his right.

However, the Washington Redskins wouldn’t be heading to their first playoff game in six seasons tomorrow at Tampa Bay if not for Lemar Marshall.

In his second season as a starter and first at middle linebacker, the one-time undrafted rookie led the Redskins in tackles and interceptions. The last Washington player to do that was linebacker Andre Collins in 1994.

“Lemar’s not a flashy guy, but he still comes up with the big plays,” left end Renaldo Wynn said. “He’s the composer of this whole thing, making this come together. We call him the silent assassin.”

Here are a few of Marshall’s victims:

• In the season opener, eventual NFC North champion Chicago trailed 9-7 and a had first down at the Washington 22 in the final seconds of the third quarter when Marshall beat top wideout Muhsin Muhammad to Kyle Orton’s pass in the end zone. Neither team scored again as the Redskins won.

• The Redskins led the eventual NFC East champion New York Giants 14-10 late in the third quarter of Week 16 when Marshall stepped in front of Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey, picked off Eli Manning’s pass and dashed 27 yards to the New York 20. Clinton Portis scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown two plays later.

• And in the season finale at Philadelphia, Washington trailed 20-17 with just 12:37 left when Marshall tipped Mike McMahon’s pass and gathered the ball at the Eagles’ 22. Portis ran into the end zone on the next play, propelling the Redskins into the playoffs.

Those defensive back-like plays shouldn’t be a surprise since Marshall played safety at Michigan State before switching to linebacker while bouncing from Tampa Bay to Philadelphia to Denver without ever suiting up for a professional game.

Only two other NFL linebackers had as many interceptions as Marshall did this season and both play outside.

“I show my DB skills once in a while, a couple of picks here, a couple of pass breakups [there],” Marshall said with a smile. “I know how to think like a DB.”

Ironically, Tennessee recruited Marshall to play linebacker, but he opted for Michigan State because he wanted to play defensive back.

Marty Schottenheimer brought Marshall to Washington in the final week of 2001, but he didn’t flourish until assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams and linebackers coach Dale Lindsey arrived last season.

“I like our linebackers to have defensive back footwork and hip skills but play with the tenacity and toughness of linebackers,” Williams said. “Lemar earned the right to be the starting middle linebacker. He showed he had the ability to play and tough and physical at the weak side last year. I take great satisfaction that Lemar has been able to prove to everybody else what we thought in the offseason would occur. It was a no-brainer that he would be able to produce the way he has.”

Not exactly. After Pierce bolted for the New York Giants as a free agent, Mike Barrow was the first option, but the veteran couldn’t get healthy. Next came Clifton Smith, a college middle linebacker who showed why he couldn’t get off the practice squad.

The Redskins then signed free agent Brian Allen, drafted Robert McCune and considered holdovers Brandon Barnes and Khary Campbell and career outside backer Warrick Holdman.

But Marshall had impressed the new coaching staff with his solid play and his diligence in place of the injured Arrington in 2004.

“Lemar stepped in as if he was the starter all along,” Wynn said. “That built a lot of trust. Lemar has done an excellent job being the general, making sure everyone’s in the right position at the right time. I think it starts with his confidence level. From day one, Lemar had the confidence and that just radiated across the entire defense.”

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