- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Linebacker LaVar Arrington grasped his Louisville Slugger, the Washington Redskins’ weekly team prize for biggest hit, and warned the assembled media.

“Nobody better ask the wrong question,” he said.

By the time he finished and was ascending the stairs, it was clear what the wrong question was.

“Go ahead,” he called down, brandishing the bat. “Ask me about Shockey.”

Arrington wanted no part of a discussion about Jeremy Shockey, the New York Giants tight end who last season lit up the Redskins by catching more passes (16) for more yards (200) than any other opponent except Dallas wide receiver Antonio Bryant.

Shockey ended up the NFL’s most prolific tight end (74 catches, 894 yards) and the only rookie to make the Pro Bowl. His play and personality catapulted him to instant star status. And this Sunday, he’s probably the biggest challenge for Washington’s second-ranked defense in a key NFC East battle at FedEx Field.

But as far as Arrington is concerned, there’s nothing to talk about.

“To be quite honest with you, we’re worried about the Giants, not Jeremy Shockey,” Arrington said. “A lot has been made about the guy, but I’m not buying into it. That’s pretty much all I have to say. So if anybody has anything to ask me about Jeremy Shockey, that’s your answer. … We’ll see what Jeremy Shockey has to say on Sunday.”

Most other Redskins were more deferential. Many noted Shockey’s blend of talent, size, speed and aggressiveness, and the problem he poses alongside so many other offensive weapons (running back Tiki Barber, quarterback Kerry Collins and wide receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard).

“When you’ve got a threat inside, outside and running, it’s tough,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “It limits the stuff you can do, unless you have people who can handle the job. We have people who can handle it, but the [Giants are] good players. They create problems. It could be a long night for us.”

Still, it will be interesting to see how productive Shockey is after a controversial offseason and a modest start to the season. Following an inflammatory comment about gays last year, Shockey this offseason called Bill Parcells a “homo” to New York magazine and discussed sexual fantasies with Maxim magazine.

The firestorm led Giants coach Jim Fassel to sieze control of Shockey’s interview schedule, but Shockey nonetheless has opened with just five catches for 44 yards in two games.

“I think he went through a tough time during the offseason,” Fassel said in a conference call with Washington area reporters. “I think he was very naive in terms of him thinking he was talking to a buddy. … It’s probably been a distraction, but I think we’re over the hump, and we’ve got control of it.”

Whether the Redskins can get over the hump against Shockey remains to be seen. The defense surrendered a dominant performance in last season’s first meeting (11 catches, 111 yards), then a solid one in the second (five catches, 89 yards). Redskins players and coaches claim they did little besides play better.

“I think the biggest thing was, the first game he caught us off guard,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “We weren’t playing the proper techniques on him when guys had him covered. They were trying to look at the quarterback, as opposed to look at the leverage they needed.”

The tough thing about defending a tight end is the matchup. A good tight end can be too quick for a linebacker, too burly for a safety and too smart for zone coverage. The Redskins’ plan seems to be a bit of all three tactics, mixed in with some cloak-and-dagger.

“If you try to put one guy on him, single him up all game, he can clear some pylons for you,” safety Ifeanyi Ohalete said. “We’re going to try to disguise our coverages, try to roll different defenders on him. Hopefully, we can shut him down.”

Ohalete and safety Matt Bowen were among the Redskins who treated the subject of Shockey with care.

“I don’t think we’re going to completely shut him down,” Bowen said. “He’s going to get some catches — that’s what good players do. But you try to limit him to average gains and small gains. If you do that, I guess that’s the way to slow him down.”

But Arrington sounded ready to come out swinging. And even defensive end Bruce Smith noted that Shockey’s impressive debut season will be forgotten if he doesn’t resume his production.

“Last year was his rookie year,” Smith said. “He deserved every bit of attention and credit that he got last year. But this game is not about what you did last year. It’s about what you’re doing right now.”

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