- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

Maybe it's because he was an eighth-round draft pick and a backup for three years who wasn't always in the limelight. Maybe he's thankful not to have to be "the guy" for a change. Or maybe he's just generous by nature.

Most likely, it's a combination of all three, but whatever the case, Jessie Armstead is OK with the idea of being Washington's "other" linebacker. It's hard to imagine a five-time Pro Bowl player being overlooked, but it's also rare that a team can boast three linebackers as talented as LaVar Arrington (who already has been to a Pro Bowl at 24), Jeremiah Trotter (two trips to Hawaii at 25) and Armstead, 31.

"There's no clash of egos," said Armstead, who signed with Washington on March 1 shortly after he was waived by the New York Giants. "We all respect the situation. LaVar is a young guy. Trotter's in the middle. I'm on top.

"LaVar was drafted here, and he's playing really well. The crowd loves him and rightly so. You walk into Giants Stadium and you see No. 98s [Armsteads jerseys] in the stands. I didn't expect to come here and see all the jerseys in the stands change to No. 98. I was embedded in New York. This is where LaVar is embedded. I was fortunate to come to a place that wanted me. And these are the best group of people I've been around. Everyone's down-to-earth. New York was like Hollywood."

If Armstead was a prince of that Hollywood leading the Giants in tackles five straight seasons before finishing third in 2001 he's content to be one of the guys in the nation's capital. And this isn't Armstead's first time as the third among equals. After finishing up at the University of Miami in 1993, fellow linebackers Michael Barrow and Darrin Smith were both chosen in the second round of the draft, while Armstead lingered until the 207th pick.

"I have nothing to prove," said Armstead, who helped the Giants to three playoff berths, two NFC East titles and the 2000 Super Bowl. He never missed a game during his nine seasons in New York but was dumped for a combination of salary cap, performance and personal reasons. "My record shows what I can do. You make your name known wherever you go. I'll get known. I've been 'the man' everywhere I've been since junior high school."

Playing alongside Arrington and Trotter who both talk as well as they tackle Armstead will likely never be "the man" in Washington. However, his younger teammates have a tremendous amount of respect for what he accomplished in New York and what he can do here. As the middle linebacker, Trotter might be calling the defensive signals, but he defers to weakside linebacker Armstead when it comes to being the unit's leader.

"Different uniform, same old Jessie," said Trotter, who played against the Giants twice a year the past five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. "He's been there and done that. LaVar and I are trying to get there. He has more Pro Bowls than we do together. I really look up to Jessie as a leader. He's a guy who can get us going. And he's a big playmaker. I used to call him Marshmallow Man because it was like he was roasting marshmallows in our backfield, like he was posting up back there. I'm like, 'Y'all can't block this man?'

"Jessie has been making big plays his whole career. He's got the athletic ability, and as you get older, you get smarter. He knows how to get into a spot without using much effort. That's something that LaVar and I are still trying to learn."

Armstead is still learning too, even after 100 straight starts; it's also his first year in new coordinator Marvin Lewis' defense.

"This defense is designed for everyone to be in his gap," Armstead said. "If you're supposed to be in a certain gap, you've got to be there. You don't go overboard and try to do something extra. It's not Fun 'n' Gun on defense, see who can get to the ballcarrier first. You have to be honest in this system. If you try to make someone else's play, you might get away with it once or twice, but by the third time, it will cost you."

That's just what Lewis wants to hear from the player he was so eager to sign as soon as free agency started.

"It's my job to get Jessie to do things the way we want them done in order to prolong his career," Lewis said. "He has given us everything I expected and more."

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