- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

LaVar Arrington is back, and the Washington Redskins’ three-time Pro Bowl linebacker is as curious as anyone else to see how he performs in his return to action tomorrow night against Pittsburgh.

In his first lengthy interview since he lashed out at the Redskins’ organization and then the media in April, Arrington was at various times frank, introspective and emotional yesterday.

“It’s been stated that I could be washed up or be the latest guy to fall by the wayside here in D.C.” Arrington said. “It just makes it all the better to prove [the doubters] wrong. If not, then I was washed up. Do I feel washed up? No. Generally, I try to forecast what’s going to happen, but this one, I’m just going to let the story unfold. I just want to get my feet wet [tomorrow]. I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself.”

Arrington, who originally hurt his knee in last season’s opener against Tampa Bay, played the next week before undergoing surgery that was supposed to keep him out two to four weeks. He suffered a bad bone bruise when he slipped while rehabbing in October. He finally returned Dec. 18, but after two weeks in a reserve role, he gave in to the pain and went on injured reserve before the season finale.

Arrington had a second scope this spring and started training camp on the physically unable to perform list before being activated Aug. 15.

“My knee feels pretty good, [but] I’m a little fatigued,” Arrington said. “Three [consecutive] days in pads is kind of a big load to take on [after limited work for three days last week]. I’ve done everything I possibly can do as far as running, conditioning and lifting. You have to play football to get in football shape.”

Playing in front of the home fans for the first time since the 2004 opener will excite Arrington, still the most popular Redskin.

“I saw so many No. 56 jerseys in the stands [while he was sidelined], I was like, ‘Man, I wish there was one on the field,’ ” Arrington said. “I don’t know how I’ll feel when I’ll see all those jerseys and mine is on. I might have to put my head up and keep [the tears] from rolling down. It’s been a long road.”

Assistant head coach Gregg Williams is enthused about what adding a player as gifted as Arrington can do for a defense that ranked third in the league without him last season. Williams said Arrington, whose starting spot has been filled by newcomer Warrick Holdman, could play as many as 30 snaps against the Steelers.

“There’s an explosive athlete right there that has a chance to make some big plays,” Williams said. “I’m excited about seeing LaVar in the best condition since I’ve been here. The first live contact is going to be important to see that there’s not any type of setback.”

The injury-filled last 11 months have been the first serious athletic setback for Arrington, 27, Parade magazine’s national player of the year in high school in Pittsburgh, an All-American in two of his three seasons at Penn State and one of Washington’s best and most quoted players by just his second season.

But 2004 Redskins additions like Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, cornerback Shawn Springs and running back Clinton Portis stepped forward, on and off the field, in Arrington’s absence from the spotlight.

“It’s hard being a leader for so long, being a focal point and then kind of abruptly stop,” Arrington said. “It’s nice to be back in the mix. It’s also nice not to have ‘the player’ pressure on me. That’s on other guys this year. That’s going to give me an opportunity to possibly just go ahead and play and let the other people have that kind of attention.”

With Arrington’s usual garrulousness and playmaking ability, that attention figures to be his again soon if he stays healthy. Williams gave Holdman only a half-hearted endorsement while salivating at the prospect of unleashing Washington and Arrington on opposing offenses, beginning with the Sept. 11 season opener against Chicago.

“LaVar could be in some very heavy packages for Chicago,” Williams said. “Those are pretty good-sized bookend outside linebackers. There are a lot of defensive coordinators that would like to see those two guys get off the bus first. They’re pretty good physical specimens. Now they’ve just got to play well. I like our chances.”

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