- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

If Lemar Marshall is at all worried about adequately filling LaVar Arrington’s monstrous shoes, the unheralded linebacker need only look a few feet to the side Monday night at FedEx Field.

There he’ll find Antonio Pierce, another previously unknown linebacker pressed into service due to injury and yet thriving on the Washington Redskins’ first-string defense.

Marshall, who is likely to start at weakside linebacker against the Dallas Cowboys with Arrington recovering from knee surgery, also can look to the defensive line. There he’ll find Joe Salave’a and Ron Warner, two more guys who have made the most of their opportunities in the limelight.

If Gregg Williams’ defense has shown anything at this early stage of the season, it’s the ability to take heretofore anonymous players and turn them into reliable first-stringers. That’s why there hasn’t been any crying around Redskin Park in the wake of Arrington’s arthroscopic surgery, only confidence that someone will step up to take the Pro Bowl linebacker’s place.

“That’s the good thing about this defense — everybody believes they can play in it, everybody believes they can start,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “So when you do lose a player like that, the next person steps in and keeps the train going.”

It happened with Pierce, who has made a name for himself in place of injured middle linebacker Mike Barrow. And it has begun to happen with Warner, who will make his first career start Monday night in place of injured right defensive end Phillip Daniels.

Now the attention shifts to Marshall, a third-year player who has excelled on special teams but now finds himself filling in for Arrington for two to four weeks. Marshall, who never has started a game in the NFL, has been preparing for this moment for some time, especially in recent weeks with Arrington trying to play through his knee injury.

“It’s just an opportunity,” Marshall said. “We thought it was going to happen last week, but it didn’t. I was ready if he was going to go down last week, but he was able to finish the whole game. Now I’m just going to have to step up and try to get the job done.”

A 6-foot-2, 227-pound linebacker who came out of college as a safety, Marshall doesn’t have Arrington’s size or explosiveness. Though the two have similar-sounding first names, Marshall has to be careful not to try to overcompensate for the loss of his Pro Bowl teammate.

“I’m not going to go out there and play like LaVar plays,” he said. “I’ve got to play like Lemar plays. … That’s what I’ve got to do.”

Marshall could be pressed into service for some time. Arrington underwent surgery Thursday to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, and though the Redskins are only officially declaring him out for this week’s game, there’s almost no chance Arrington will be back in uniform for next Sunday’s game at Cleveland.

Arrington also could miss subsequent games against Baltimore and Chicago, but Williams is not concerned about his defense’s ability to fill the void.

“Everybody on this defense, if they made the active squad, has to think that they are capable of starting in the National Football League,” Williams said. “Every week somebody in this league steps up and plays that no one knows about. Every single week. Hopefully, [this week] it’ll be here with the Redskins.”

Although Marshall is the most likely candidate to replace Arrington, Williams could have other options. If Barrow’s injured knee is finally in good enough shape for him to play, Williams could insert him at middle linebacker and move Pierce over to Arrington’s weakside position.

Barrow’s season debut, though, still appears to be a ways off. The veteran linebacker bristled yesterday when asked about his status, saying for the first time he’s trying to play with a partially torn tendon, not the less severe tendinitis the club continues to say he has.

“I still feel some discomfort since I’ve got a small tear in my tendon,” said Barrow, who has missed the preseason and the regular season so far. “I’m just trying to get my strength back, trying to be able to cut and plant and stuff like that. It’s not tendinitis. I’ve played with tendinitis before. It’s a tear.”

Washington’s defense, ranked No.1 in the NFL after two weeks, figures to see some decrease in production with Arrington out. And that figures to put more pressure on the offense to produce after two somewhat lackluster showings.

“The defense has been carrying us the last couple weeks,” running back Clinton Portis said. “We’ve been putting them in bad situations, and they found a way to fight out of it and get us the ball back. … It’s time for us to step up.”

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