- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

Past playoff hopes often crumbled with late-season losses because the Washington Redskins desperately missed leadership. Some blamed then-coach Norv Turner's light style for failing to rally the troops. Others said the team's best players weren't leaders.
But as the Redskins (2-5) face the Seattle Seahawks (3-3) today at FedEx Field seeking their third consecutive victory, the recent ascension from NFL doormat to respectability has been fueled from the locker room, not the front office.
The Redskins finally have players unafraid to take charge rather than an occasional fumbled pep talk or cliched T-shirt motto. Several of the standout veterans are now taking responsibility for the team's record.
There are a few rules for a prospective team leader:
He has to be a starter; no one listens to reserves because players only truly respect those contributing on the field.
Linemen are more respected. This is a blood sport, and size really does matter.
cIt's not enough to lead on the field; playing well doesn't make a leader. He has to back it up verbally.
cWhatever the player did before coming to the Redskins doesn't matter. Lots of older free agents never became Redskins leaders because they're too insecure. They wanted to blend in, get paid and move on rather than attract attention if they didn't play to their past standards. Cornerback Deion Sanders was a "Prime Time" example.
The quarterback is often the key. Jeff George said leadership was "overrated," and a week later he was gone. However, leadership has been largely missing since Mark Rypien departed in 1994. Many of his successors were rookies or journeymen who couldn't or wouldn't take charge.
However, current starter Tony Banks has never wavered from the role despite not arriving until Aug. 16. Banks barely knew the plays when he relieved George in the season opener but nonetheless managed to orchestrate a field goal. Banks is still struggling with some parts of the playbook, but Banks' confidence has impressed teammates.
Banks has help working the locker room, too. Defensive end Marco Coleman has been a leader since arriving in 1998. After only one practice, Coleman awakened his teammates when he yelled for someone to get a loose ball during a non-contact drill. Coleman is now the team's union representative and isn't afraid to talk to players about playing better. That he's back after missing four games with a dislocated elbow further increases his influence.
Offensive tackle Jon Jansen has the same influence but projects an even stronger voice in the locker room. The third-year veteran isn't afraid to confront underachieving teammates.
"There's no time to be shy," Jansen said. "You have to be able to step up and say a couple things and if people don't like it, then we're not here to make friends. We're here to win games."
Linebacker LaVar Arrington has elevated his play and leadership during his second season. Recognized as the team's hardest hitter, Arrington's return from an apparent concussion to rally Washington to its first victory with a 67-yard interception touchdown proved his playmaking ability. However, he became a central locker room figure since training camp when he arrived with the confidence of being a veteran. Arrington figured the new experiences of his rookie season were over and it was time to resume the dominating play he showed at Penn State before becoming the second overall pick in 2000.
Running back Stephen Davis jokingly challenged Arrington as team leader in the locker room Thursday. Davis is trying to shoulder the role, too. The soft-spoken two-time Pro Bowl choice has been much more visible mentoring younger players. The fact that he is fourth in seniority on the Redskins has made Davis realize this is not only his offense but his team.
And, of course, there's cornerback Darrell Green. The 41-year-old will retire come season's end and seems to be taking a long last look on a daily basis. He spends more time in the locker room, reveling in the camaraderie that sometimes was missing during his 19 seasons.
Defensive end Bruce Smith and Green are headed to the Hall of Fame, and teammates revere both men. Green gets added consideration for spending his entire career as a Redskin. He spoke during a team meeting on the eve of Washington's first victory, 17-14 over Carolina on Oct. 21, and Green's words of pride resonated through the room.
The Redskins have never been a downtrodden group. The lunchtime checkers games remain competitive. Good-natured barbs usually zing around the locker room, with rookie cornerback Fred Smoot threatening defensive tackle Kenard Lang's reign as smack-talking champion. The 0-5 start no more fazed players than coach Marty Schottenheimer, who dismissed reports of his possible firing as unwarranted gossip.
"It was pride and guys wanting to do it," Davis said of the turnaround. "A lot of people compared us to [the team that started] 0-7 in 1998, but this team is more upbeat."
Maybe a grueling training camp turned the players into survivors. Perhaps the bad start forced them to rely on one another because the new coaching staff hadn't yet won them over with its "buy into it" management system that confused some players. Regardless, it's still a tight group.
"Losing is what builds the stronger character," Coleman said. "To start with a new coaching staff, winning a game built the trust."


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