- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington continued to levy thinly veiled criticism on the scheme of defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis yesterday, a day after the unit gave up 252 rushing yards and Arrington was visibly frustrated in a 20-10 loss at San Francisco.
Arrington cryptically answered questions at Redskin Park after bristling at one Sunday night. Wearing a bandage on his elbow and later receiving one on his hand, he talked of "getting banged up" from playing his physically demanding new role and of hearing from a friend on the 49ers that San Francisco targeted his deficiencies in the scheme.
Throughout Arrington's discourse was a constant theme: everything he is doing is per coaches' orders, and if he doesn't always look the best out there well, you can fill in the blank.
"You guys have seen what I can do," Arrington said. "I know what I can do. Just understand that I'm doing what I can do, in this system, to the best of my ability."
Arrington is miffed that he is being used on third downs as a defensive end, a position of great success for former Lewis linebackers like Kevin Greene, Chad Brown and Peter Boulware. Arrington also is playing closer to the line of scrimmage in base sets similar, he said, to how coordinator Ray Rhodes used him in his rookie season (2000).
Throughout last year, Arrington spoke of how much happier he was in Kurt Schottenheimer's scheme, which freed him to run to the ball. He said it was similar to how he played at Penn State. He demonstrated tremendous speed and the ability to make hard hits under Schottenheimer, and as a result he was selected to start in his first Pro Bowl.
Now, though, Arrington is frustrated by more detailed duties on first and second downs and his rather alien responsibilities on third downs.
"I've never really had my hand on the ground," Arrington said. "I was drafted based on what I was able to do, pass-rush as a linebacker. But that's here nor there. This is the situation that I'm in, and I'm going to do my best to dedicate myself to be the best at it, if that's what's going to help this team."
On Sunday a question regarding something Lewis said about the defense in general irked Arrington. He cut off the reporter and said, "I'm not going to answer questions if you guys come at me with what coaches said. What his opinion is, that's the opinion he gave you guys."
Asked yesterday if there is a problem in his relationship with Lewis, Arrington laughed and replied, "He's a coach. I'm a player. I'm coachable."
Lewis claimed to have no knowledge of his linebacker's frustration, saying, "I don't know that. You have to ask LaVar. He doesn't share those thoughts with me."
The dispute, team sources said, hinges on Lewis' tough-love approach with the young star, who wasn't always the most disciplined player last season. Lewis' scheme, players agree, demands dedication to responsibilities. Lewis thinks Arrington can achieve greatness in this set, though in the short term he might struggle and long for quicker success.
A resolution could take several forms. First, Arrington could improve in his roles, something teammates said might not happen quickly because of his current frustration. Second, Lewis could adjust his scheme, something sources said he is unlikely to do, because past successes have given him confidence in his methods. Third, both sides could give a little.
Regardless, teammates recognize how important it is for this issue to be resolved even if, on the record, they don't totally acknowledge it's there.
"If [Arrington is] not [comfortable], hopefully he gets there quick," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "He's a crucial part of our defense. Whenever he does feel comfortable, if he's not now, I know we'll be a lot better."
Washington did improve at San Francisco from its previous outing, a 37-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but still gave up too many rushing yards and key plays. San Francisco star quarterback Jeff Garcia missed most of the second half with an illness but the 49ers averaged 6.1 yards per rush. Two early conversions of field position into touchdowns and a game-ending possession that ran out the final 7:59 basically defined Washington's effort on defense.
Arrington was a key player on the second touchdown, missing wide receiver Terrell Owens on a busted end-around that Owens turned into a 38-yard scoring run. Arrington's frustration was visible on the sideline after the play, but he played better in the second half and, according to Lewis, showed several nice moments of leadership.
The defense emerged from the game fairly healthy. The back of defensive tackle Daryl Gardener and wrist of defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson did not suffer any setbacks, and defensive end Bruce Smith dislocated a finger but doesn't expect to miss any time. Washington has an open date this week and next plays Oct.6 at Tennessee.
During that period Lewis must find common ground with Arrington and other Redskins defenders, some of whom have started to talk about the defense's complexity in recent days.
"This system is a little bit more complex," Smith said. "If you have to think about it so much that it causes hesitation, then you're already a step or two behind the offensive guy and that's all he needs. I liked Ray's system. Kurt's system was decent. I like Marvin's system, I really do, but you have to get everyone on the same page."
Lewis flatly denied the claim of complexity, saying, "When we set records in Baltimore [in 2000], we weren't complicated." However, he ultimately was upbeat.
For current mistakes Lewis said, "I'll shoulder the blame"; of the ugly total of rushing yards (the highest against a Redskins team since Nov.3, 1996), he calmly chalked it up to a couple of second-and-longs and the final drive; and of the current difficulty he considered it part of the expected process.
"This is the challenge that I came here to be a part of," Lewis said. "That was fun out there yesterday. It didn't come out the way we wanted it to come out, but we made some progress. The thing you don't like is how we finished the game. That's disappointing, and we've got to look inside and get that done."


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