- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

Each week Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington runs a bit faster, hits a bit harder, makes a few less mistakes and inspires his teammates even more [-] or at least it appears that way.

As a result Arrington, just 23 and in his second NFL season, is on the brink of his first Pro Bowl invitation and the Redskins (6-6) are in contention for the playoffs despite an 0-5 start.

"He has played superbly this year in every regard," coach Marty Schottenheimer said yesterday. "He's got great skills, and week after week he is becoming more accomplished in the subtleties and the nuances of the position."

Last weekend's 20-10 victory at Arizona was another big day for Arrington. In the closing moments of the first half, he intercepted a pass to set up a field goal as time expired. Late in the fourth quarter, he made touchdown-saving tackles on consecutive plays.

The interception was reminiscent of one he made Oct. 7 against the Carolina Panthers that resulted in a 67-yard touchdown return. The play was the turning point in the game and, some say, the Redskins' season. And the tackles were similar to a variety he has made this season, many with unforgettable power.

Washington will need more big plays from Arrington tomorrow when it faces the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles (8-4). He spearheaded the Redskins' 13-3 win at Philadelphia three weeks ago, making nine tackles and at times playing a spy role to contain mobile quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Keying these performances are Arrington's maturation and Schottenheimer's scheme, which keeps him off the line and frees him to seek out ballcarriers. He has no sacks this year (and four for his career; former New York Giants great Lawrence Taylor had 17 in his first two seasons), but he has an unmistakable impact in most games.

"Players and coaches have put me in a position where I can dictate the pace on our side of the ball," Arrington said. "Being off the ball gives a linebacker a better chance to read and react. If I have to make a play on the weak side and I'm on the strong side, I have the opportunity to do it because I'm off the ball. I'm not in traffic."

Arrington might be the Redskins' only representative at the Pro Bowl on Feb. 9. He leads fan voting among NFC outside linebackers, according to results released Thursday. Fans' votes count one-third toward the final determination, while coaches' and players' votes, scheduled to be taken Dec. 26 and 27, count for the other two-thirds.

Washington's other Pro Bowl candidates are lagging. Running back Stephen Davis, a two-time participant, is No. 5 at his position. Cornerback Champ Bailey, a first-time selection last season, also is No. 5. Offensive tackle Chris Samuels is No. 9, while fellow tackle Jon Jansen isn't among the top 10.

Arrington's defensive teammates don't get to vote for him each position votes on those it faces most often in games but they didn't hesitate to lobby.

"If I could vote [for] him, I would," middle linebacker Kevin Mitchell said. "I think he's our impact player. … We look for him when we need a big play."

Said safety Sam Shade: "He runs like a deer, and when he gets there … he gets there with a bad demeanor. I'll put it like that. I've been real impressed with him."

Arrington, however, is a bit concerned about his growing reputation for drawing personal foul penalties and league fines. Arrington picked up his fourth fine of the season this week, $5,000, for retaliating against Cardinals wide receiver David Boston, bringing his total this year to $35,000.

Arrington's temper will be back in the spotlight tomorrow, when he faces Eagles offensive tackle Tra Thomas. In the first meeting, Thomas speared Arrington while Arrington lay on the ground; Arrington retaliated for the cheap shot with an open-handed punch to the face. Thomas was fined $7,500, Arrington $15,000 (more because it was his third offense).

"The judgment being passed on me is frustrating," Arrington said. "It's almost like I'm being put out to be a bad guy, like I'm a villain or something."

But Schottenheimer isn't worried about Arrington's actions in tomorrow's game or any other.

"I think more has been made of it than really exists," Schottenheimer said. "The incident that took place in Philadelphia was one where a lot of people would have responded that way. And LaVar has great energy. He brings tremendous energy to the field in everything he does, and I feel very confident that he understands exactly what he's doing and how he needs to continue to make the right choices."

That said, Arrington sounds determined to add "plays with a cooler head" to the above list of apparent trends in his game. So far he believes he has been playing football the way it's meant to be played. But if it's meant to be played another way, he'll figure that out and alter his actions.

"This offseason I'm going to do a lot of studying on how the game should be played," Arrington said. "I'm going to become a better person. I'm bigger than this. I'm not going to stoop to the level people are trying to get me to stoop to."

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