- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. — It was so hot on the football field here yesterday morning you could have fried an egg on Steve Spurrier's visor. But the Redskins opened their training camp anyway, despite the triple-digit temperatures and wagging tongues. There was Darrell Green, 42 years young, chasing receivers and fielding punts. And there was LaVar Arrington, 18 years younger, soaking his legs in a tub of ice water after the first workout.

During stretching exercises, Green looked over at Fred Smoot, another pup, and reminded him, "You were 3 years old when I first stepped out here." Actually, Darrell was exaggerating; Fred was 4 when No.28 paid his first visit to Dickinson College.

"I'm going to try for 20 [years in the league], too," Smoot assured him. "But if I don't make it, don't get mad at me."

This was the day the countdown officially began the countdown, that is, to Spurrier's much anticipated first game as the Redskins' coach. The NFL clock starts not with the draft or with minicamp, but with the first crunch of shoulder pads in late July. Marty Schottenheimer set the tone in Carlisle last year by subjecting his players to the dreaded Oklahoma drill (one ball carrier, one blocker, one defender) and alienated influential veterans like Bruce Smith in the process. Smith, you might be interested to know, was issued a Get Out of Pads Free card yesterday, yet another sign that the new boss ain't like the old boss.

It's hard not to notice how much happier the Redskins are in this training camp, how much more at ease. A year ago, it was as if they'd all been sent to military school. (You imagined them spending their nights, after disappointing practices, scrubbing the floors of their bathrooms with toothbrushes.)

Spurrier is much more laid-back than Schottenheimer. He's scheduled the Oklahoma drill for Day 2 instead of Day 1.

"Just a few pops," he said casually.

Arrington and Smoot were certainly in a talkative mood. Trust me, the more you get to know these guys, the more you're going to like them. Not only are they swell players, they have a great sense of fun about them. One moment, LaVar is saying, playfully, "I'm still the prettiest defensive player," the next, Fred is chirping, "I might get tired and pass out [from the heat], but I'm still going to talk."

On the first day of training camp, all things are possible especially when there's been a coaching change. It's a time for thinking big and dreaming the impossible dream and, well, going on like Arrington and Smoot did.

"We've got the best [cornerback] duo in the league," Smoot said of himself and Champ Bailey. "And we're going to prove it for 16 games. Make that 20. We'll be ready for the Rams. We'll be ready for the Niners for the simple reason that they run the same patterns that [Spurriers] offense runs against us every day in practice."

Arrington, for his part, said he was looking forward to becoming a "sack master." New defensive boss Marvin Lewis plans to send him after the quarterback a lot more than Kurt Schottenheimer did, and LaVar is envisioning a slew of rib-rattling, game-altering, hits on unsuspecting QBs.

"Hopefully, [Smith] won't be the only sack master this year," he said. "Hopefully I can compete with him [for the team leadership]. It's going to be fun competing with maybe the greatest defensive end of all time."

Here's something else he can hope for: That with the arrival of Spurrier, life for him and the Redskins can finally settle down. Nothing jeopardizes the growth of a promising player more than constant turnover in the coaching staff. And as someone pointed out to LaVar, he's now had a different head coach in each of his three pro seasons.

As a matter of fact, he replied, "I've had three training camps and four coaches" because in his rookie year, Norv Turner was fired with three games to go and replaced by Terry Robiskie. (How quickly we forget.)

"Now there's a trivia question for you," he said. "You just have to adapt and adjust [to all the change], really. You try not to think about it too much. In football, coaches have become just like players. They come, they go just like us. I have a lot of respect for those guys, because they've got as much pressure on them as we do."

One of the pressures Arrington is feeling this year is not to become the answer to another trivia question. "Marvin Lewis has been successful everywhere he's been at Pitt, with the Steelers, the Ravens," he said. "I don't want to be the answer to the question: What defense was not good that Marvin Lewis coached? I've got enough trivia questions in my life."

Under a nearby tree, Darrell Green stared into a TV camera and read in Japanese a promo for the Redskins' game against the 49ers in Osaka two weeks hence. A few feet away, free agent pickup Jessie Armstead took issue with a reporter's description of camp as "laid-back."

"Laid-back?" he repeated. "It's never laid-back out there on the field. Laid-back is when you don't have to come to camp."

Players who'd already showered and changed headed off to lunch, some on bicycles. Fans jockeyed for position behind restraining ropes, hoping for an autograph or a photo of one of their heroes. Dan Snyder's helicopter made a racket in the distance. The Redskins were off on their latest excellent adventure.

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