- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington moved a step closer to playing this weekend by taking all the scout team snaps in yesterday’s full-pads practice.

That Arrington retains even a glimmer of hope for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles represents a rather remarkable improvement from the beginning of the week, when club officials made plans for him to test his surgically repaired knee after a 10-game layoff.

A final determination on Arrington’s status could come today. Although the odds of him playing remain long, practicing so extensively yesterday, after returning to a no-pads workout Wednesday, apparently gives him a shot.

“He moved very, very well,” assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams said. “If he’s not tremendously sore from what he did today, he’s got a chance.”

Arrington reported his knee felt “all right” after practice. He said he purposely took all the work with the scout team because he was told by coaches that doing so was a prerequisite to playing. Now he is eager to see whether he’ll get the green light.

“It’s up to the coaches and the medical staff,” Arrington said. “I feel like I’m doing everything I need to do to get out there and have an opportunity to play with my teammates. I can’t do any more than that.”

Struggling coverage

After giving up a 92-yard touchdown return last weekend, the Redskins’ kickoff coverage ranks last in the NFL in terms of the opponents’ average starting field position.

Washington opponents open drives after kickoffs, on average, at nearly the 32-yard line. By contrast, the Atlanta Falcons lead the NFL with an average starting position at the 22.

The Redskins’ coverage problems extend to punts, where Tom Tupa has given up 202 more return yards than any other punter in the NFL. But despite the dreadful statistics, there hasn’t been much concern around Redskin Park.

One reason could be injuries. Although the defense has weathered a series of setbacks, the real impact might be on special teams. Antonio Pierce and Lemar Marshall, for example, would be more extensive contributors on coverage units if injuries weren’t forcing them to start at linebacker. Plus, the constant shuffling limits chemistry.

Another issue on kickoff coverage appears to be leg strength. Kicker John Hall has battled groin injuries, and Ola Kimrin didn’t kick off particularly well while filling in. Last weekend Hall, in his second game back, didn’t reach beyond the 13-yard line on three kickoffs, raising further questions about his health.

“I’m not making excuses, but it was tough practicing with all that wind last week,” Hall said. “[On Sunday,] I mis-hit a couple of kickoffs. … The groin held up fine, but you can’t be out six weeks and get it back with a snap of your fingers.”

Special teams coach Danny Smith declined comment.

A vote for Pierce

Williams started a surprising lobbying effort by pitching Pierce for the Pro Bowl.

Pierce leads the Redskins with 124 tackles in his first full season as a starter, making the most of the playing time vacated by injured Mike Barrow. Pierce, a former undrafted rookie under Marty Schottenheimer, also has handled the defensive calls superbly.

“I would say he’s played production-wise as well as any middle linebacker,” Williams said. “And I don’t know that many middle linebackers have to do as much in the checks and audibles and running the show as [our] middle linebackers. … It’s amazing he’s been able to produce in really his first full year playing at this level.”

The odds of Pierce making the Pro Bowl, of course, are long. In fact, the real impact of Williams’ comments could come in contract talks this offseason, when Pierce is scheduled to be a first-time unrestricted free agent.

Extra points

If Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens catches his 15th touchdown pass Sunday night, corpulent coach Andy Reid will pay. When Reid told Owens in training camp to stop wearing tights, the 300-pound coach promised if Owens scored 15 times, not only would the rule be stricken but Reid also would wear tights.

“They had to tailor-make ‘em so I’ve had ‘em for a while,” Reid said in a conference call with Washington area reporters. “They’re black … anything for the slimming effect.” …

Nose tackle Joe Salave’a had no explanation for the air-guitar rendition he put on last weekend after making a tackle. But he acknowledged the dance was awfully similar to one defensive end Renaldo Wynn did several weeks ago.

” ‘Naldo might have to take me to court, because he’s the patented guitar player,” Salave’a said with a laugh. “I told him it wasn’t a guitar; it was a ukulele.”

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