- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2006

Spending some of his recent offseasons training in Los Angeles seems to have made an impression on Adam Archuleta, the new Washington Redskins safety.

While talking about his rise from Arizona State walk-on to $30 million player, Archuleta compared it to a movie and the talk quickly turned to actors and box office numbers and personas.

So in the Arch Story, who plays No. 40?

Tom Cruise?

“Nah, he’s kind of overrated these days and his box office numbers aren’t doing as well,” he said. “And he’s kind of a wacko.”

Matt Damon? The “Bourne Supremacy” movies have certified him as an action kind of guy.

“Don’t think so … we don’t have the same — you know,” Archuleta said. “Maybe Brad Pitt. Who is good that’s out there right now and getting good numbers? I got it. Johnny Depp.”

But Archuleta isn’t ready just yet to write a script, choose a cast and find a producer and director.

“What’s happened so far is cool and everything, but the movie isn’t over yet,” he said. “Hey, we’re just rising to the climax — we’re not even close to the last part of the show yet. I haven’t even thought about selling the rights. There is so much more — we’re just scratching the surface.”

What’s happened so far for Archuleta since he was in high school has made for a compelling ride.

A lightly recruited defensive back at Chandler (Ariz.) High School, Archuleta had to walk on at Arizona State. He ended up starting three years at linebacker and earned Pac 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2000. A first-round draft choice by the Rams in 2001, Archuleta started in the Super Bowl his rookie season.

Now expected to play a key role on the Redskins’ defense, Archuleta signed a six-year, $30 million contract (richest ever for a safety) in March.

Although he, like many of the Redskins, struggled during an 0-4 preseason, Archuleta is counting on things clicking a week from tonight against the Minnesota Vikings. And that’s when his thoughts on how he got to the District will end until the time is right.

“If I thought [about the path], I would have never achieved anything — just one of my goals and that would have been it,” he said.

Act I

Location: St. Louis, last December.

Scene: Another Rams’ loss featuring another sub-par defensive performance. An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, Archuleta is already thinking about his future. It doesn’t include St. Louis.

The Rams finished 6-10, Mike Martz was fired and a team that made three playoff appearances in Archuleta’s first four seasons was headed toward a rebuilding job.

“I was ready for something different — some fresh air, a drastic change and I wanted to start winning again,” he said. “It was almost a relief when the season ended because I knew that, no matter what happened, it would be better.”

The culture in St. Louis had changed dramatically during Archuleta’s five-year stay. Although he played at least 13 games each season and had a whopping 149 tackles in 2002, he said things took a turn in 2004 when defensive coordinator Lovie Smith left to become Chicago’s head coach and Archuleta envisioned moving on himself.

“When Lovie left, things spiraled out of control and then it was turmoil everywhere,” he said. “We had so many forces against us and winning seemed like a thing that had become so hard to do.”

Act II

Location: Phoenix and Los Angeles, early March

Scene: Working to get ready for the 2006 season, Archuleta waits for a new collective bargaining agreement so the recruitment of his services can begin.

Because he walked on at Arizona State, Archuleta had never truly been recruited before so he was anticipating the start of free agency where a bidding war among several teams was expected to produce a monster contract.

But as March 1 became March 5, Archuleta got antsy.

“I was excited to get the process going. My agent kept saying, ‘A couple more days, a couple more days,’” he said. “It was just a matter of waiting it out. Logically, it made no sense to not have a new CBA.”

Eventually a deal was struck and Archuleta was flown on a private plane to Northern Virginia where his representative agreed to the contract at 4 a.m., and he was introduced as a Redskin on March 13.

“There were a lot of teams calling my agent, but how many teams that were serious about it and could compete, who knows,” he said. “Really in my mind, the two teams were the Redskins and Chicago. I felt like being here was a no-lose situation.”

Archuleta quickly impressed his new teammates with his work ethic.

“He doesn’t say too much but he’s going 120 percent on the field,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “He’s a guy that works extremely hard. He hasn’t missed a day. He leads by example and will definitely be a great addition for us.”

Act III

Location: Redskin Park, last month.

Scene: The office of safeties coach Steve Jackson and on the practice field.

Everything Archuleta learned at Arizona State and with the Rams, he has had to erase from his memory. Rookie defensive backs with the Redskins aren’t the only players who have to re-learn new footwork and responsibilities.

“Pretty much everything we do here is different than everything I’ve learned,” Archuleta said. “Man coverage, zone coverage — all completely different. I had to come in fresh and learn to do it their way.

“At first, it was tough because you’re thinking too much about the new stuff and you become robotic. But now I’ve become more fluid and I’m able to play football.”

And then there’s the mental adjustment to a new defense.

“He’s kind of used to being in a place where the coaches make all the calls and you had to do it no matter what,” assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “What we do in our system is give the players a say. He’s had to get comfortable with recognizing things and then putting himself into a better position.”

Archuleta is a proven run stopper and blitzer, but his coverage skills continue to be a work in progress. He got turned around on a play against Baltimore and the Ravens completed a 35-yard pass. That drive ended when Archuleta was a step late moving to his left and Mark Clayton caught a 15-yard touchdown.

With the preseason over, Archuleta hopes to take the things he learned last month into the regular season and continue the story.

“To me, there’s always more, always something else,” he said. “I’m not even close, not nowhere near, to the kind of safety and player I want to be. I feel like my game has so much room for improvement. But I’ll probably always feel like that.”

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