- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

It was a trick play. Warrick Dunn took the pass on the right side and was mulling a long toss downfield. Jeremiah Trotter hustled over to make sure Dunn didn’t tuck the ball and scramble for a big gain. Out of the corner of his eye, Trotter saw a teammate racing around the back side.

And, no, it wasn’t LaVar Arrington.

Jessie Armstead, often the forgotten member of the Washington Redskins’ Pro Bowl linebacking triumvirate, ended any chance of a pass or run by Dunn and nailed the Atlanta running back for a 3-yard loss. Trotter was impressed.

“I told him, ‘Man, you shot across there so fast — I’m used to seeing LaVar run like that,’” Trotter said with a laugh yesterday.

That play and a key sack-safety in the third quarter were the latest examples that Armstead remains a very capable NFL player. Just six weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, Armstead continues to refute those who think he was finished when he was cut 19 months ago by the New York Giants, the Redskins’ opponent Sunday.

“If people didn’t look at age, they would never say that,” Armstead said. “If you put that to the side, you know I can run sideline to sideline and make plays out there. If people can do that, then they can appreciate some of the things I can do out on the field.”

Armstead is used to the doubters. He went from an undersized eighth-round pick in 1993 to a five-time Pro Bowl player with the Giants. His advancing age and relatively modest production in 2001 might have led to his release and a new round of questions, but teammates aren’t surprised by his current contributions.

Though the average fan might notice only Armstead’s big plays — like Sunday’s pair or last season’s three sacks and seven tackles for losses — his fellow Redskins see them as the byproduct of being in position and playing aggressively.

“Maybe not everyone notices who watches the game on TV, but he does so many things that can change a game,” safety Matt Bowen said. “The first thing is being assignment-perfect almost all the time. People might say, ‘Well, you’re supposed to do that.’ But this is a hard league. They have formations you haven’t seen. And he’s so smart it makes him that much better.

“This is what I tell people when they ask about superstars: When you’ve got a guy who’s so talented like Jessie, and they know what they’re doing, it makes them even more talented. It’s scary.”

Not to say that Armstead hasn’t lost a step; literally, he has. But functionally, he has compensated for any decrease in speed with better knowledge, instincts and anticipation — characteristics that helped him complete Sunday’s sack-safety.

How Armstead made the play is no secret by now, but it’s still pretty impressive. Having seen Falcons quarterback Doug Johnson make the same play-action fake earlier in the game, Armstead told teammates that, if Atlanta ran the play again, he could make the sack before Johnson threw to Armstead’s man (the Redskins were in man-to-man coverage).

In the third quarter, on their goal line, the Falcons ran the same play. The Redskins ran the same defense. And Armstead ran Johnson right into the ground for two points and Washington’s first lead.

“I’m not losing a step,” Armstead said. “I might not be a 4.4 every time you pop it on, but I’m certainly going to be a consistent player. I’m going to go until the whistle stops. I’m going to keep going. I can play ball. And when they walk on the field, they know they’ll have to respect me, too.”

The thing that Trotter notices about Armstead’s speed is it’s more than what he sees in practice every day. Armstead goes hard in practice, but he finds a new level on game day.

“I tease him a lot, because during the week it’s almost like he’s in slow motion,” Trotter said. “But when he gets in a game, it’s like two different guys. He said he’s just learned over the years how to get his work in but take care of his body during the week. He can turn it on and off. I told him, ‘You’ve got to teach me how to turn it on and off.’”

Said Armstead: “I try to make sure I’ve got all my keys down in practice. I run to the ball, but when the game comes I can take it to the level I need to be at. I think as you get older you need to turn it to a higher level when you get on the football field on game day.”

The Giants are sure to see that higher level at FedEx Field this weekend. Even if Armstead doesn’t feel the same sense of drama for this year’s Giants games, he still knows Washington has a lot at stake when it plays his former team.

“It’s always going to be special when you see all your friends across there,” Armstead said. “But as far as the hoopla, it’s all kind of gone now. Now it’s a job that we must get done, and a job that they’re going to try to come in and do. I just want to go out there, play ball and have fun.”

Notes — Quarterback Patrick Ramsey was more upbeat about his chances of practicing today after feeling “a lot of improvement” in his sprained left (non-throwing) shoulder yesterday. He remains on course to play Sunday. Said Ramsey: “It’s still sore, but it’s a whole lot better.” …

The Redskins worked out defensive end Lorenzo Bromell, who played from 1998 to 2001 for Miami and last season in Minnesota. No signing was imminent. … Tight end Kevin Ware rejoined the practice squad as expected.

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