- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2004

Surprise is not in short supply when it comes to Marcus Washington.

Sure, the Washington Redskins thought the linebacker, who signed a six-year, $22.5million contract in March, was an up-and-comer, a gifted young player starting to reach his NFL potential. They expected him to perform well in training camp and be an important cog in Gregg Williams’ defense this fall.

What they didn’t anticipate was the intensity he would bring to practice each day, or how, a week into camp, he would be remolding the already upbeat vision of him.

“We think he might be even better than we did when we signed him,” linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said yesterday, echoing the buzz throughout the organization. “Some of the things he’s doing right now, we’re hoping that’s not just an aberration, that it’s really going to happen every day.”

If it does, the club might pull off its controversial gamble on defense, in which it passed on bona fide pass-rushing linemen like Jevon Kearse and invested in a somewhat unknown outside linebacker from the Indianapolis Colts. The acquisition of Washington, often lost amid an offseason of high-profile signings, might end up a centerpiece move.

The plan is to pair Washington with fellow outside linebacker LaVar Arrington to give Williams, the assistant head coach for defense, a dangerous tandem. The Redskins might not have anyone worth double-teaming on the line, but with Washington and Arrington they expect to attack the quarterback from both sides and keep opponents off-balance.

“Man, with the way Gregg Williams’ brain works, it probably could get real ugly,” Arrington said wistfully. “It’s like you’ve got to pick your poison. You’ve got to decide which side you want to go to.”

Raising the odds of that plan being fulfilled is Washington’s performance to date. The 27-year-old’s intensity is cresting and his play improving at a time — in the wake of a big payday — when an NFL player’s work ethic is often spoiled.

“Hopefully I won’t be one of those guys,” Washington said with a grin. “I feel like I’m one of those guys that has to prove himself. I think, in order to do that, you’ve got to come out every day and leave it on the field.”

Washington said his mother, Earnestine, instilled him with that day-in, day-out intensity. He recalled how Earnestine, at one point a single mom, worked “every day, rain, sleet or snow,” in a plant that made plastic bottles. These days, even though her only child is a multimillionaire, she continues to work at Wal-Mart.

“I don’t make her work,” Washington said with a laugh. “She just likes to work. I don’t know. Go figure.”

Earnestine raised her son in Auburn, Ala., where he went on to star at the football-mad university of the same name. Playing defensive end as a senior, Washington recorded a team-high seven sacks but couldn’t convince everyone in the NFL of his potential. Too small for end and without game tape to verify his future at linebacker, he needed strong pre-draft workouts to rise into the second round.

Among the notable holdouts was Williams, who worked for the Tennessee Titans at the time and said this week, “I am going to be the first one to admit it — I missed on him when he first came into the league.”

Nonetheless, the year at defensive end gave Washington core skills that aided his pass-rushing at the next level. He recorded 18 sacks in four seasons with the Colts, maxing out at eight in 2001. With the Redskins, he will provide crucial pressure for a club that recorded fewer sacks (27) than all but five other teams.

A lot goes into effective pass-rushing besides pure speed or power. Tight end Walter Rasby noted, for example, that the ability to shed blocks with proper hand technique might be the single most important attribute — and one Washington possesses.

“If he’s lazy with his hands, I can block him all day long,” Rasby said. “But if he’s active with his hands or whatever, that makes him tough to block. … I like [Washington’s] hand placement.”

Lindsey, meanwhile, said his pupil has mental acumen to go with physical gifts.

“I think it’s great when a guy comes over and we say, ‘You should do this next time,’ and next time he does that,” Lindsey said. “And it’s just one time. Gregg Williams has a favorite saying — ‘Repeat-mistake offenders won’t play here.’ … [Washington is] really a good leader in that way.”

Said Arrington: “I just think that he brings a lot to the table. He can take up some of the load on pass-rushing, or we could both be coming at the same time. It just creates a whole ‘nother wrinkle on our defense because he’s able to do so many things, as well. It’s almost like you’re getting the same thing from both sides.”

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