- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2007

Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington not only were good friends and teammates at Penn State, many considered the pair to be the two best college defensive players in 1999. It came as little surprise when Cleveland picked Brown No. 1 and the Washington Redskins took Arrington No. 2 in the 2000 NFL Draft.

But in the last two months, the Denver Broncos released Brown and the New York Giants did the same with Arrington. As squadrons of personnel types around the league squint at their computer printouts, videos and character reports in preparation for another draft, the only college teammates since 1984 to go first and second face the real possibility that they have played their last game.

Brown appears to be finished as a pro. The defensive end had microfracture knee surgery — his second — in October, and missed the entire 2006 season.

“If the knee comes around I’m willing [to give it another shot],” he told reporters in February. “But if the knee doesn’t, then my options are limited quite a bit.”

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has recommended that Brown retire.

No one has publicly made such a suggestion to Arrington, whose only season as a Giants linebacker was ruined in late October when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon, an injury that led to the end of several careers. According to his agent, Arrington is looking for work (he did not return telephone and text messages) and some NFL teams might at least invite him to training camp. But there are no guarantees.

Nor, of course, are their guarantees with the draft.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said he was looking at 2000 when compiling a list of busts.

“I remember I was high on Arrington, but not as high on Brown,” Kiper said. “I think Arrington certainly had some good moments. He was a better NFL player than Brown. … Arrington had a high grade. Courtney Brown I thought had some questions.”

As CBS commentator and former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly said, “It’s all a question of bad luck.”

That is, getting hurt, especially in Brown’s case. Arrington managed three Pro Bowl seasons with the Redskins.

Brown rarely had the chance to even do that. He had a solid rookie year in Cleveland, with 62 tackles and 4 sacks, but then the injuries began — ankle, knees, neck, biceps, elbow, foot. Cleveland traded Brown to Denver in 2005 and he had a decent season while remaining healthy, but then he hurt his knee again during the 2006 preseason.

In seven seasons, Brown played in just 61 of a possible 112 regular-season games. He had no injury issues at Penn State, where he was a dominating lineman who could stuff the run and pressure the quarterback (he set a school sack record), and a model citizen who played the game absent of any overt fanfare.

“One of the coolest guys ever,” Arrington told reporters in 1999.

Brown’s nickname in college was “The Quiet Storm.”

“Courtney, he’s a natural,” Penn State assistant coach Larry Johnson said in 1999. “First of all, he has the big arms. He has great explosion off the ball. Then he has great balance. He can move. He’s not a straight-ahead guy. He’s got the head fakes and moves, and that makes him different from other ends. And a will to be successful, Courtney has that, too.”

Ron Wolf, then the Green Bay Packers general manager, called Brown “one of the best players to come into the league in a long time.”

Now retired and living in Annapolis, Wolf this week said he knew the Packers had no chance to get Brown, but could not help but notice him from watching tapes of other players.

“He had every attribute you were looking for in a defensive lineman,” Wolf said. “He had size, speed, length. It was unfortunate that he got hurt. He never did it. … That’s the thing that balances everything out. The injury factor. I don’t care how much you know.”

Brown made an immediate impression after he arrived in Cleveland. According to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Brown looked so good during a post-draft rookie camp that then-director of football operations Dwight Clark “practically skipped off the practice field” and uttered, “Wow!”

“He was very impressive the first day out of the box,” Clark said. “I can’t wait to see him in full pads. … but he certainly looked like the real deal today.”

Casserly added, “Yeah, I thought the guy was the whole package. He was strong, physical, could play the run, could rush the passer. Everyone thought he was a heck of a prospect.”

What makes Brown’s story even more unsettling is that he is considered one of the good people in the league, which warrants mention given the NFL’s recent crackdown on off-field disciplinary problems.

Broncos defensive tackle Gerard Warren, a former teammate of Brown’s in Cleveland and Denver, last year told reporters, “He’s probably the best person I’ll ever meet, a guy who has deserved a lot better than he’s gotten back from the game. … He always seemed to end up on the wrong end of the stick when it comes to injuries.”

If Brown was “The Quiet Storm” in college, Arrington was the opposite. Brash and boisterous, he exhibited a wide range of skills while roaming the field making big plays. Before the 2000 draft, Shanahan called Arrington “one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen play the linebacker position.”

But there were red flags, notably Arrington’s tendency to roam a bit too much, to deviate from his assignments, which raised the ire of his coach at Penn State, the legendary Joe Paterno. No matter. The Redskins, and others, believed Arrington to be too good to pass up. Owner Daniel Snyder reportedly was so enamored he was willing to trade up to No. 1 to make sure he got him. Arrington, who wore No. 11 in college, raised expectations even more by asking for No. 56, the number made famous by Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

Casserly, whose wheeling and dealing enabled the Redskins to obtain second and third picks (offensive tackle Chris Samuels) in 2000, did not see Arrington perform for his team. He was fired by Snyder after Washington made the playoffs in 1999 was soon hired as the first general manager of the expansion Houston Texans.

While acknowledging Arrington’s skills, Casserly said he was among the few who doubted whether Arrington was, in fact, the second-best defensive player in the country behind Brown.

“They pushed him into that,” he said, meaning the Redskins.

Arrington, whose jersey was the most popular among the fans, played for four coaches and five defensive coordinators in his first five seasons. Despite the three Pro Bowl selections, he flourished only in 2002, the one season Marvin Lewis was the coordinator. Lewis seemed to be the only coach who could exploit Arrington’s pass-rush abilities. Playing the rush end position on passing downs, Arrington led all NFL linebackers in sacks with 11. But he accepted the job reluctantly, and consistency remained an issue.

“He had his moments,” Wolf said. “He was a heck of a talent. But I was always under the impression that he was a better pass rusher than pass defender.”

Joe Gibbs’ return in 2004 marked the beginning of the end for Arrington in the District. Gibbs brought with him Gregg Williams to run the defense and linebackers coach Dale Lindsey, neither of whom cared for Arrington’s attitude nor his freelancing reputation.

Arrington became a lesser factor, then a non-factor. A knee injury and a subsequent contract dispute with the team confirmed his inevitable exit. Arrington waived a $4.4 million bonus to obtain his release after the 2005 season and the Giants, who remained intrigued by the possibilities, gave him a seven-year contract worth a reported $3.7 million a year, plus incentives, and a $5.25 million signing bonus.

“We needed a big, power player to add to our defense and LaVar Arrington is that,” Ernie Accorsi, who was then the Giants general manager, said last year.

But Accorsi and the Giants turned out to be wrong. Arrington never got on track with the Giants and then he got hurt, but not before the Giants played the Redskins in October. There was a big fuss about Arrington stealing a playbook and drawing some negative comments from former teammate Shawn Springs and Lindsey, who said Arrington never understood the Redskins’ defensive schemes.

“He didn’t know anything when he was here,” said Lindsey, who recently was fired by Gibbs. “What makes you think he’ll know anything up there?”

Gibbs, as is his wont, was more diplomatic, calling his time spent with Arrington a “learning experience.” He added, “There was an injury that ran through the whole thing, which complicated things. It was just a situation that didn’t go well, and I wished it had.”

What happens next is anybody’s guess.

“The bottom line is the guy got hurt [with the Redskins] and never really came back,” Casserly said. “And even watching the Giants, he was never really healthy. … The main reason the guy isn’t playing today is injuries.”

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