- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington is a physical freak and a potential terror to offenses two reasons defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis knows he has to keep him on the field as much as possible.

That's why Arrington is playing defensive end on third downs, and that's why he'll stay there even though he's going through some growing pains.

Arrington's role in a three-point stance has come under scrutiny following Monday's 37-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles' offense had its way, gaining 451 yards and converting nearly 50 percent (seven of 15) of its third downs. Arrington was among the most conspicuous Redskins in terms of missed tackles and overrun plays.

But nothing is changing. Lewis has coached linebackers like Kevin Greene, Chad Brown, Jason Gildon and Peter Boulware who all have played third-down end. And each worked from a down position except Greene, who liked to poke his head over the line of scrimmage something NFL rules now prohibit.

Lewis thinks Arrington is every bit as talented as those players, and, simply put, he's not suited for a coverage-oriented role on third downs.

"Where else is he going to play?" Lewis asked yesterday at Redskin Park. "He will not embrace the intricacies of playing coverage on third down and get that done well enough. I've watched that. Everybody here has lived through that.

"You're going to try to get your best 11 guys out there. He ought to be a premium guy there. You'd kill to have that guy as a rush end. He's just got to develop and do it. Time will do it."

Arrington agrees that he still is undergoing "a transition." He also concurs with Lewis that he is trying to do too much attempting to live up to a reputation that has grown since last season, when he started in the Pro Bowl as a second-year player.

"I think right now I'm trying a little too hard," Arrington said. "I just have to play within myself. I had a funny game [against the Eagles]. I think I'm pushing to be the type of player that gets this team sparked up, when in actuality all I need to do is play within myself, and that will be enough. I realize that."

Lewis said that mentality is endemic on a defense that has 21 Pro Bowl appearances among its starters. Strangely, as each player tries to live up to his reputation, the defense suffers.

"We're breaking down right now because we've got guys trying to make the Pro Bowl," Lewis said. "Because everybody says they're supposed to be 'this.' We're not playing as a team. Until we play as a team, we're not going to be very good."

For Arrington to succeed as a defensive end, Lewis said, he needs to be committed to learning the technique, studying his opponents and then attacking them in methodical ways.

"Every time you rush the quarterback, you're setting up your next rush," Lewis explained. "You've got to go into a game with a rush plan. Every practice rep taken out here should be a rush plan against that particular player. If you don't [do that], you're never going to progress as quick as possible."

Arrington made obvious progress last year but still didn't fit the expected mold of Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Arrington took Taylor's No.56 after being selected second overall in the 2000 draft, but he hasn't approximated Taylor's 132.5 sacks (which don't include the 9.5 Taylor posted as a rookie before sacks were an official statistic).

That hole in Arrington's resume he recorded 4.5 sacks in his first two seasons was supposed to be filled under Lewis. The down position gives a pass rusher a better "take-off," as Lewis calls it, a lower center of gravity and a more powerful surge, which "gets the offensive lineman backward on his skates." Arrington this year has one sack on Eagles passer Donovan McNabb, after nearly getting Arizona's Jake Plummer several times the week before.

Lewis' last pupil in this spot was Boulware, a star defensive end at Florida State before the Baltimore Ravens drafted him fourth overall in 1997. Boulware's work in college made him a bit more confident as a third-down end, but he by no means had an easy transition.

"We made [film] cut-ups from Florida State of him, three years into his career, four years into his career," Lewis said. "Every year we had to go back and say, 'These are the things that used to be second nature to you. It's got to become part of your repertoire. You can't let thinking paralyze you. You've got to keep your aggressiveness and speed.'"

Arrington's range of moves remains limited as a defensive end. The Redskins' future Hall of Fame end, Bruce Smith, might be able to help Arrington learn techniques at some point, but he's not in position to do a lot of teaching right now.

"We've just got to get to the mentoring stage, and it's hard to mentor somebody until you become real comfortable with what you're doing," Lewis said.

The preseason seemed to be a more comfortable time for Arrington, and Lewis is hoping Arrington can find that looseness on Sunday. Arrington, for his part, thinks it's just a matter of time until he figures out the defensive end position.

"I think coach is putting a little more stress on you now that it's regular season," Arrington said. "So I think it goes a little bit hand-in-hand. I think you have to take the good with the bad. I think we're just adjusting to one another. That's all."


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