- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2002

Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington can't be with the ones he loves, so he loves the ones he's with.
"I'm disappointed obviously that my boys aren't out there with me anymore," Arrington said yesterday. "But if I can't be out there with them, then what better guys to be out there with than Jessie Armstead and Jeremiah Trotter?"
Arrington's "boys" are Shawn Barber and Kevin Mitchell, former starters who have been replaced by big-name free agents Armstead and Trotter. Washington's linebacking corps now might be the NFL's best, but Arrington doesn't forget that it was pretty good as part of 2001's 10th-ranked defense.
The third-year player has a similarly enthusiastic but even-handed tone about defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. Arrington became convinced of Lewis' acumen by watching the great Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers of the early 1990s, when Arrington was a Steel City schoolboy, but he doesn't know if something sets Lewis apart from, say, immediate predecessor Kurt Schottenheimer.
"We'll find out," Arrington said. "I think [Lewis has] been tested and tried, and he's proven over and over again that he's really a go-to guy. Just to see what he did with that [Steelers] linebacking corps: Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Chad Brown, Levon Kirkland. He had those guys clicking. And I feel like we have that kind of linebacking corps here."
Arrington, Trotter and Armstead made the Pro Bowl last season and have recorded eight straight appearances among them. Although they still are learning one another and the schemes at this weekend's minicamp, many believe Washington's linebackers compare with Pittsburgh's unit of Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, Kendrell Bell and James Farrior as probably the NFL's best.
Other corps close to the top are those of the Chicago Bears (Brian Urlacher, Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman) and the Cincinnati Bengals (Takeo Spikes, Brian Simmons and Steve Foley).
Baltimore's linebackers under Lewis were considered No.1 in recent seasons, but the Ravens are adjusting to a 3-4 scheme with only Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware after losing Marvin Lewis to Washington and Jamie Sharper to the Houston Texans in the expansion draft.
It remains too early to gauge Arrington, Trotter and Armstead, other than to look at what they produced as members of the Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, respectively. But there seems to be a level of instant comfort; Trotter, in the middle, sets the defense, while Arrington and Armstead help call out movements by the offense.
All three linebackers stay on the field for third downs, one evidence of their talent. Arrington moves to right end in a down position, while Trotter and Armstead, traditionally three-down players, remain at linebacker. Most nickel schemes, in contrast, exchange a linebacker for a defensive back.
"Every team strives to [leave their linebackers on the field]," Lewis said. "That's what they're supposed to be able to do. When you've got the guys of this athletic ability, you ought to be able to do that."
Armstead, 31, has made the past five Pro Bowls but must prove that he is not on the downside of his career. He brings experience to the group, while Arrington, 23, and Trotter, 25, add youth and raw talent. All three have quickness, probably the most important factor.
"One thing I can say: All three of us can run," Armstead said. "That's a strength. That's a big strength."
So is the ability to make violent hits something Arrington, in particular, has a reputation for doing. He is eager to have Trotter join him in the hit parade.
"I'm sure we'll have a little knockout pot going on," Arrington said. "We're going to take it back to the old days when [Jack] Tatum and those guys were trying to knock everybody out."
Responsible for channeling that force is Lewis, the NFL's highest-paid assistant coach.
"For what he's done in Baltimore and what we've got here, we've got the opportunity to evolve into something special," Armstead said. "But that's up to us. We've got to go out on that field and do it."
Such humility underlies the trio. Trotter has been especially vocal in trying to keep the focus on the defense as a unit.
"It's not just about us three; it's about the 11," Trotter said. "The defense can't run with just three linebackers. We're going to need all 11."
Arrington, meanwhile, retains perspective by keeping Barber and Mitchell in mind. Barber, perhaps his closest friend, now is an Eagle, while Mitchell remains with the Redskins as a reserve. Arrington recently told Mitchell to maintain his confidence not only because he played well as a starter last season, but "because it's a long year" and the team will need him at some point.
Meanwhile, the Redskins' three starters might set the linebacking standard for the NFL.
"To have those guys around me, I think it will work out because those guys really know what it takes to win," Arrington said. "I don't think they're in it for any selfish reason or purpose. I think we'll be really good this year."

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