- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington sat on a weight bench yesterday and answered questions in a tired, monotonous voice. How is his wrist? How does he judge his last game? Is the adjustment to Marvin Lewis' scheme getting any easier?

Arrington, it should be noted, plays like a kid and generally acts like one. He's the first to mock a teammate or scream a joke across the locker room. But lately he hasn't been in the locker room during lunchtime. And he hasn't been mocking, screaming or joking much at all. So after three or four answers in that tired, monotonous voice, the next question seemed kind of obvious.

Is he having any fun? He just seems so, you know… . "Blah, huh?" Arrington said, a smile creeping across his face. "Yeah, I mean, you guys have been around me for the past 2-1/2; years. You guys know when I'm happy is when I'm making a difference. But I guess I just have to learn to make a difference in a different way. I have to shock myself into believing it's OK.

"I think if you've been a headliner your whole life, your whole career, you've been put in positions and asked to do things, I think it just becomes a part of you. Even though I'm having a solid season so far, it's kind of different."

Indeed, Arrington's third NFL season has been a striking contrast to his second, when he made the Pro Bowl with a series of big plays and ferocious hits with Kurt Schottenheimer's defense. This year Arrington is being asked to make fewer plays, to stay in certain positions and to trust teammates to make tackles.

Sometimes in this defense, in fact, he's at his best when he least resembles a star. Last Sunday at Tennessee, Arrington had what Lewis called "his best football game," by doing "a nice job being where he's supposed to be."

Arrington's statistical output for the game?

One assisted tackle.

OK, it changed to one solo tackle after the coaches reviewed game tape. Regardless, one assisted or solo tackle is a long way from last year, when Arrington led the team with 100 tackles, made a season-turning interception and a variety of "oooh" hits, racked up fines, played through injury and emerged as a team leader. And in short, set the stage for this summer's prediction that he was shooting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"You couldn't have told me it couldn't be me," Arrington said when reminded of that statement. "But sometimes you have to adapt and you have to adjust. That's all a part of this game adapt and adjust. That's what I'm doing. It's still early. Something, I think, has to give. Somewhere or another. At least I hope and pray that somewhere or another I get a break."

Arrington, Lewis and teammates all believe that break is coming. With the defense enjoying its best game of the season at Tennessee holding the Titans to only 85 yards in the second half it's obvious players are starting to understand Lewis' defense. Soon they should be able to show the talent that has earned them 28 combined trips to the Pro Bowl.

"It's getting close," Arrington said. "I'm going to make some noise, believe me. There's going to be some noise made. It's just a matter of time."

In the meantime, it won't always be easy for him.

"Unfortunately, it's a part of life," said defensive end Bruce Smith, one of the teammates closer to Arrington. "They say the strongest shall survive. You have to be able to adapt to different schemes, different situations, different problems you face within life. This is a challenge for him."

Smith just smiled when told of the dichotomy of Arrington's last game one tackle equaled, in Lewis' mind, his best game of the year. (Incidentally, Arrington had 11 tackles and one sack in the Week2 blowout loss to Philadelphia).

"That's the scheme and the integrity of this defense," Smith said. "Everybody has a job to do that goes without saying but it's more vivid when you think of this scheme. Everybody has to be in their responsibility, in their gap and playing the technique that goes along with that defensive call. If they don't, we're going to have a breakdown."

Sometimes it's hard for spectators to see who's at fault for breakdowns. Last weekend, for example, Titans quarterback Steve McNair ran for an 11-yard touchdown on a play in which Arrington blitzed to the outside. Shouldn't Arrington have stayed in that gap? Or shouldn't he have cut short his pass rush and gotten in position to nail McNair?

Actually, no. And no.

"LaVar's blitzing outside on that play," Lewis explained. "I can't tell him, 'OK, you blitz here, and now you come inside and make this play.' If I do that, we'll be right back where we were."

"Where we were" was Arrington blowing responsibilities while running all over the field to make tackles. At San Francisco in Week3, he had more than two dozen missed assignments. Arrington griped afterward about the scheme and about being used as a third-down defensive end. Teammates told him to keep quiet and focus on his duties.

That's what he's doing now. It's a tough adjustment, and he isn't always having fun. But he's doing what he has to do.

"I'm coachable. Being coachable means you trust what you're being instructed to do," Arrington said. "Once I get to the point where it's second-nature to do the things I'm asked, you'll see the speed and you'll see the excitement back in my game. I think it's getting there."


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