- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. It was only 27 months ago that linebacker LaVar Arrington and offensive tackle Chris Samuels, the two newest Washington Redskins, were standing on the Madison Square Garden stage like two giddy schoolchildren.

The promising pair had just become the second and third overall selections in the NFL Draft. The flashy Arrington danced around, while the reserved Samuels stood and grinned. The two shortly boarded a private plane for Dulles Airport and then a helicopter for Redskin Park, where they were introduced as the future of the franchise.

Now the Redskins must feel like the giddy schoolkids, their picks having turned out so well. The draft's inexact science is painfully obvious in the first few selections, where mistakes can dog a club for a half-decade. But in Arrington and Samuels, Washington got two Pro Bowl picks, two team leaders, two solid citizens in short, two worthy cornerstones.

"It's a great thing," Samuels said this week."Me and LaVar worked hard from day one. There were a lot of high expectations about us, and we came in and fulfilled those things."

At training camp this week, five months after their first Pro Bowl, they are back together sharing a suite at a Dickinson College dormitory. Last year's camp had a different dorm, and players had no roommates. Arrington feels like they have come "full circle," from wide-eyed rookie roomies at 2000's camp to men who inhabit roles of prominence.

The two don't talk much when they get back from meetings at night they usually go right to sleep and they don't have much interaction as teammates because they're on different sides of the ball. In fact, they scarcely get paired in perception anymore, probably because each has etched such an impressive resume.

But they maintain tremendous mutual respect. Each has watched the other improve over time. And ultimately, they think they can become long-time Redskins greats.

"I really do [believe that]," Arrington said. "That would be awesome to have somebody like Chris Samuels with me for my whole career. That's somebody you do it with. We've journeyed together. That would be neat."

Defensive end Bruce Smith has watched their progress closely, teaming with Arrington on defense and facing Samuels in practice. He also was a top pick No.1 overall in 1985 and can see what qualities have let them live up to the hype where so many Ryan Leafs, Heath Shulers and Tony Mandariches have failed.

"It's definitely a tribute to their God-given ability, their competitiveness and their desire to be known as some of the best," Smith said.

"But the challenge is to do it year after year after year," he added. "Once you set the standard, you have to live up to it every year. If you don't, that's where the problems start."

Those close to Arrington and Samuels say there is evidence that they'll maintain their standards.

Linebacker Eddie Mason, for example, sees Arrington starting to use more than his instinct and physical gifts. Arrington might have made huge plays and highlight hits last year, but Mason thinks he's becoming a complete player.

"Last year I saw his game really go to another level, but I think it was still off raw talent," Mason said. "This year I see him not just on his ability but really learning the game of football. And I think that's going to help him evolve into even a greater player."

Smith just smiles as he makes a similar comment.

"What's scary about LaVar, although he's done extremely well, he still has a little way to go as far as putting everything together," Smith said. "He's getting it quickly."

The future Hall of Fame selection sees similar progress by Samuels, who often credits Smith for helping him learn the nuances of his left-side spot.

"Although I'm not practicing, I'm working with Chris each and every day," said Smith, who is resting two arthroscopically repaired knees. "I'm checking him out on film, I'm telling him what he's doing wrong, I'm giving away a lot of my secrets. And after I've given them to him he goes out and executes them and looks over at me and winks."

Both Arrington and Samuels possess rare physical gifts. Arrington, for instance, combines a running back's speed with a middle linebacker's frame and frightening tackling ability.

"I said there was no way this guy could be this big and can run this fast and move that quick," Mason recalled. "And then when I actually saw him on the first day I was like, 'Wow.' It was absolutely amazing."

Samuels, meanwhile, brings superb agility and balance to his position, allowing him to block the best right defensive ends, generally the game's top pass rushers. Like Arrington, he hasn't wasted his gifts.

"The Lord gave him a bunch of tools, and he uses them," offensive line coach Kim Helton said. "He's blessed physically, obviously, and the mental part is everything you want. He's smart about the game, and he has a great work ethic."

The leadership roles of both players evolved out of consistent play on the field. Vocal inspiration has come gradually, and this year they seem to be making the transition from being leaders on their side of the ball to overall team leaders.

Off the field, both have lived up to expectations. Arrington's way of giving back to the community has been revealed slowly, because he intentionally works away from the cameras. Samuels is known as an easygoing guy with a good heart and the right priorities.

"I think the NFL is a big part of [Arringtons] life but it's not his life," Mason said. "And I think he recognizes that and it keeps him humble. I think that's why both of those guys have been successful. They do have a certain humility about them and a certain caring about them, not just about this game but about other people."

For Arrington and Samuels to have put performance, leadership and personality together at such an early stage makes it easy to envision them being foundations for as long as they remain healthy and well-compensated.

Said Samuels: "Hopefully, we both can be Redskins for life."

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