- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

After all he has been through, Lemar Marshall is perfectly happy to have the same old routine for a change.

The Washington Redskins’ middle linebacker has played too many positions in too many systems on too many teams.

But this season, finally and for the first time since high school, Marshall is starting at the same spot in the same defensive system for a second straight season.

“Last year, I had to hurry and spend more time on getting everyone lined up properly,” Marshall said. “Now I can slow my heartbeat down and concentrate on the little things. Now I can just go play football.”

Marshall, 29, is playing well enough. He struggled at times in pass coverage, especially in single coverage of wide receivers such as Terry Glenn of the Dallas Cowboys.

But with 29 tackles (21 solo) and 11/2 sacks, Marshall ranks first or second on the Redskins in those critical categories. The Redskins, meanwhile, rank fifth in the NFL and second in the conference in rushing defense with the former college cornerback and safety manning the middle.

“Lemar is doing quite well,” linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said. “He’s more aware of what he needs to do and is more comfortable doing things. That’s what you do when you get to play the same position twice.

“We’re looking for him to take charge this year. Last year when he first started, he made the calls, but he didn’t make the plays. Then when he got comfortable, he made the plays. This year, it’s like second-nature to him.”

NFL coaches didn’t always see him that way.

Marshall, who played for Michigan State, was bypassed in the 1999 draft, but signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a rookie free agent. The Philadelphia Eagles were next. He spent time on both teams’ practice squads, joined the Denver Broncos in 2001, switched to outside linebacker and was cut that September.

Marshall signed with the Redskins that December, made the team as a backup in 2002 and remained in that role the next season after George Edwards replaced Marvin Lewis as defensive coordinator.

When linebacker LaVar Arrington got hurt in 2004, Marshall stepped in and started 14 games on the weak side for new coordinator Gregg Williams.

When middle linebacker Antonio Pierce signed with the New York Giants as a free agent in March 2005, Marshall stepped in again.

Undersized at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds, he nevertheless beat out a host of rivals for the job. Marshall was more than an adequate replacement, leading the Redskins with 98 tackles and four interceptions.

He also delivered a memorable moment with the team’s first playoff berth in six years on the line. The Redskins trailed the Eagles 20-17 in the fourth quarter of the regular-season finale. Marshall tipped a pass from quarterback Mike McMahon and gathered in the ball at the Eagles’ 22. Redskins running back Clinton Portis ran into the end zone on the next play to clinch an inspiring victory and a playoff berth.

Pierce and Marshall still talk frequently, and Pierce said his old pal is a “totally different guy” than he was when he showed up in Washington trying to save a career that had yet to really get started.

“In the middle you have to account for the whole field, but when I was on the weak side and Antonio was on the middle, I would make calls for myself,” Marshall said. “You’re always learning. You’ve got to expect the unexpected. But I definitely do feel more comfortable than I was at this time last year. I’m doing more reacting and less thinking.”

Warrick Holdman, now manning the weak side filled by Marshall in 2004, recalled highly touted rookie linebacker Brian Urlacher struggling on the outside at first when they were teammates on the Chicago Bears in 2000.

“Then they moved Brian to [the middle] and it was like a light went on,” Holdman said. “All it takes is getting comfortable. Sometimes Lemar will tell me what to watch for before they run it. … Lemar is quiet on the field, but when you get to the sideline, he’ll be like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to watch this’ or ‘You need to get over faster.’ He won’t be like, ‘You’re messing up.’ With the road he came from, Lemar’s humble.”

So much so that when he was asked if he’s tired of being underrated, Marshall replied, “It’s fine if I stay underrated. All I want people to say about me is that he knows how to play football.”

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