- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

LaVar Arrington never has been afraid to speak his mind, whether he’s touting his own Pro Bowl resume, chastising teammates for taking losses too lightly or offering sage advice to an incoming rookie.

So it came as no surprise when the Washington Redskins’ $68million linebacker held court with the media following the first day of training camp and talked passionately about both his career and his team.

For those who have come to know him over the last four years, though, there was something different about the way Arrington spoke. Not the words that came out of his mouth but the sincerity with which he uttered them.

LaVar Arrington has promised big things before. This time he sounds like he really means it.

“I was vocal in years past, but I think this is probably the first year that I’m just not tolerating anything less than everybody giving their best,” Arrington said. “I don’t care. This is not going to be a waste of their time, and it’s not going to be a waste of my time anymore. I’m not going to tolerate it.”

Call it the words of a supremely talented player who’s fed up with four seasons of mediocrity. Or call it the words of a maturing superstar finally accepting his role as a team leader.

Whatever the case, Redskins observers are noticing a different Arrington these days.

“He kind of reminds me of the city of D.C.: He’s been here for so long, he just wants to win,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “As long as he’s been here, he’s never tasted the playoffs. He’s been through so many coaching staffs, I’m sure he’s heard it all. He just wants to win.”

In many ways, Arrington has come to epitomize the plight of the Redskins over the last four years: loads of talent, few results to show for it.

Who’s to blame for that is a matter for debate.

Arrington won’t hesitate to point out he has had a different defensive coordinator in each of his five professional seasons (Terry Robiskie in 2000, Kurt Schottenheimer in 2001, Marvin Lewis in 2002, George Edwards in 2003, Gregg Williams in 2004). Each had a different view on how Arrington could be best utilized.

Then again, Arrington never has been as gung-ho about his role as he was last season under Edwards, who gave him the freedom to roam the field and make plays. The result: Arrington, like his fellow linebackers, frequently found himself out of position on crucial plays, leading to even more finger-pointing.

Despite that, Arrington was selected to the Pro Bowl for the third time in four seasons, underscoring the reputation he has established for himself around the league.

“Three Pro Bowls in four seasons,” he said. “I’m not doing bad.”

The old Arrington might have just left it at that. The new Arrington, though, qualified the statement by conceding he might have been too aggressive last season and hurt his team by committing too many personal fouls.

“You obviously don’t want to go into a new season and not be wiser about your decisions,” he said. “We were obviously a heavily penalized team last season, and I know I added to that epidemic. But you live and you learn. Coming into this season, for some reason, it’s been a very humbling experience for me.”

In Williams’ defensive scheme, Arrington is unlikely to be given as much freedom as he had last year. The new coaching staff isn’t revealing much publicly about how it intends to use Arrington, but he has switched from strongside to weakside linebacker, a position that might exploit his speed better.

Williams also is expected to make Arrington his primary pass rusher, which means he likely will line up at defensive end in third-and-long situations. Arrington publicly grumbled when Lewis attempted to use him the same way two years ago, but now the newly mature player welcomes the plan.

“I’m at the point now where I just want to win,” he said. “I don’t care about myself so much. They could move me to defensive end full time, I don’t care. I just want to win.”

Without giving too much away, coach Joe Gibbs yesterday hinted he expects the Redskins’ defense to be built around Arrington in many ways. He also expects the linebacker to embrace his role as the defense’s unquestioned leader.

“The best leaders are the guys who make plays and lead by example,” Gibbs said. “Certainly I think we’re counting on LaVar to be a real playmaker this year. He’s proven that he’s a real talent. I think we’re going to try to use him in a lot of different ways, be creative. He’s one of the guys that we count on making a lot of plays.”

For his part, Arrington expects just as much out of Gibbs. He has gone out of his way to praise the Hall of Fame coach and his veteran staff this offseason.

That may not be surprising to those who have grown accustomed to those positive vibes from Arrington every summer for the last four years. He hasn’t entered a professional season yet when he didn’t try to proclaim that it was going to be the year the Redskins finally won.

This time around, though, Arrington actually may believe it himself.

“I wouldn’t want to go somewhere else and be a part of something that’s already been established,” he said. “We’ve struggled here, but when that turnaround takes place, I’ll be so happy, I’ll probably be crying. People won’t be able to stop me from crying. It means that much to me. Just thinking that this might be the turning point for this team, it means everything to me.”

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