- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

It was like an out-of-body experience for Washington Redskins linebacker Robert Jones. The jokes were on him, but he was laughing just as hard as his teammates as they teased him for wearing a green suit on the recent trip to Arizona.
"Guys were calling me 'Green Lantern,' or 'the Mask,'" Jones recalled yesterday. "Or Bruce [Smith] said, 'Hey, Robert, your suit's so tight I thought you pulled your hamstring.' They said I was going to have to go on injured reserve with a pulled hamstring. And I laughed like they were talking about somebody else, because it was so funny."
That's the kind of enjoyment Jones, a 10-year NFL veteran, is having in his first season with the Redskins. Signed to compete at middle linebacker, he has become the weakside starter and a capable backup at the other two positions, and he has fallen into the most satisfying locker room situation of his career.
"It's a fun group, but that's on every team," Jones said. "This is just the best group of guys I've been around."
The Redskins (6-7) have a similar appreciation for Jones, particularly this week as they prepare for a big game against the Chicago Bears (10-3). He likely will move back to the middle Sunday to replace injured starter Kevin Mitchell, who is doubtful with a sprained ankle. Rookie Antonio Pierce would start on the weak side.
Although much of this week's attention is focused on two young star linebackers, Chicago's Brian Urlacher and Washington's LaVar Arrington, the Redskins know how important Jones' versatility and experience have been to their playoff run. Weakside starter Shawn Barber tore an ACL in Week 3, but Jones' play has cushioned that potentially key loss.
"He has done a tremendous job," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "He's got a wealth of experience, and he has a real understanding for how you have to prepare to play the game. He's a real professional."
That preparation has allowed Jones to remain so effective late in his career. Instead of just learning the middle role while he was competing with Mitchell in training camp, Jones observed what coaches were looking for at the other two spots. Then, as he filled in for Arrington and Barber, he didn't stop thinking about the middle's duties.
By passing along such study tips, Jones is reprising a leadership role he held in previous NFL stops, particularly Miami (1998 to 2000). He's not a Marco Coleman-style leader who rallies the team when it's complacent, or an Arrington-style who inspires with superhuman plays on the field. Instead, Jones compares his role to that of Smith or Darrell Green, calling himself a "father figure."
"I think I'm the type of leader guys look at and say, 'He's been around awhile. He knows what it takes,'" Jones said. "I like to assist guys [by saying], 'It's important to be in meetings not just on time but early. It's important to meet with your coach and learn as much as you can, regardless of how talented you are.'"
An impression has been left not just on young players. Older Redskins, too, recognize what Jones has done to be successful this season and appreciate it.
"There's certain things that make you last long in football," safety Keith Lyle said. "One's dependability. One's durability. And one's being smart and making plays. Robert's always been an intelligent player who's made plays. You can always trust Robert to know his assignment. And it's nice playing with a guy like that, because it makes you play better."
Lyle knows Jones well, having played with him in 1996 and 1997 in St. Louis. Those were the least satisfying years of Jones' career; the Rams won just 11 games and after the latter season he was cut. His career in limbo, Jones was forced to recast himself as a strongside linebacker in Miami after playing in the middle for Dallas (1992 to 1995) and St. Louis.
Now he feels comfortable outside and in, a trait he hopes will allow him to re-up his one-year contract and finish his career among these new friends who keep a close eye on what he wears.
"I know where I would like to be, and that's right back here," Jones said. "I can honestly say, of all the teams I've played with, this is the best group of guys that I've been with. I'm not blowing smoke. Sometimes it's the people who make this job fun to come to."

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