- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

After a slow start in the defensive scheme of Marvin Lewis, Washington Redskins middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter gets a showcase game and a chance to prove that he has caught up following the open date.

On Sunday, Trotter faces the Tennessee Titans and running back Eddie George, the first true power back the Redskins have played this season.

Although Trotter doesn't view this as a one-on-one battle, he concedes he is stepping into the spotlight by facing a 236-pound Pro Bowl rusher who lives between the tackles.

The hype doesn't approach that of recent years when Lewis' big-name middle linebacker in Baltimore, Ray Lewis, played George. But as the Redskins (1-2) and Titans (1-3) try to arise from mediocrity, this matchup remains important and intriguing.

"Week in and week out, you don't face guys that big," Trotter said yesterday. "You've definitely got to try to get him before he gets started. You definitely can't let him get [through] the line of scrimmage into the secondary, on the smaller DBs. We've got to do a good job up front and penetrate into the backfield."

Run defense is a particular focus of the Redskins this week after giving up 252 yards to San Francisco in their last outing Sept.22. Washington ranks 30th in run defense, ahead of only the New York Jets and Seattle, but will try to improve after using last week's open date to review the basics of Lewis' scheme.

Trotter, Washington's blockbuster offseason signing (seven years, $35.5million), is just a part of the unit's failing, one of several players who hasn't mastered the new defense. But he accepts more than his share of blame for the run deficiencies.

"I take it personal any time a team runs," Trotter said. "You're the middle linebacker. I can't do it all, but I take pride in stopping the run. We did a poor job of that the last two games."

Examining Trotter's performance so far illustrates how several great players have struggled to adapt to Lewis' scheme and how it's difficult for the average fan to see whether certain players are performing in this set.

In recent games, for example, an opposing fullback sometimes ran through the hole at the line of scrimmage for a lead block on Trotter. The tailback then followed, sometimes for a big gain. What seemingly happened is that Trotter got blocked out of the plays.

But, Lewis explained, "he's not necessarily going to make that play. That's not his job. His job is to spill the football outside. He's got to get it spilled. And the next three guys come over to make the play."

That's how the much-mentioned "trust" of Lewis' defense works. Players generally aren't asked to line up in a specific area and then attack they are asked to hold down a certain position so that the opposing ballcarrier runs to a place where the defense expects to bring him down.

In Philadelphia, where Trotter earned trips to the past two Pro Bowls, his duty more closely resembled the first style.

"Last year I was asked to two-gap the fullback [attack on either side] and make the play," Trotter said. "In this defense, my job is to take away the inside or the outside. It's all about knowing what to do. Sometimes when you're indecisive, you don't know whether to spill it to the safety or turn it back to your linebacker."

Trotter faced George once before, in 2000 while playing for Philadelphia. George rushed 32 times for 101 yards that day, helping Tennessee to a 15-13 victory on a last-second field goal by Al Del Greco.

George rushed for 1,509 yards that season and went to his fourth straight Pro Bowl, but his career since has gone downhill. The seventh-year veteran, now 29, is averaging just 2.7 yards, more than a yard below his 3.8-yard career average. Some observers wonder whether he is worn out.

Regardless, the Redskins believe George remains one of the NFL's premier backs. And Trotter knows stopping him Sunday will be a litmus test for whether he is playing within Lewis' scheme or still lapsing into old habits.

"It still happens sometimes," Trotter said. "I'm trying to be disciplined. I'm trying to learn every day just to do my job. It's coming together slowly but surely. I know there's daylight at the end of the tunnel."

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