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Paul Woody: Star linebacker returned, but not in his familiar position


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Redskins' role call

Star linebacker returned, but not in his familiar position



Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pro football is filled with specialists. Sunday, the Washington Redskins added to an already overflowing list of specialists: the second-down linebacker.

LaVar Arrington, a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and a fan favorite, filled that role.

In past years, he would have been unhappy in any role but every-down linebacker.

But this is not every year.

"More than anything else, I was just happy to be back out there," Arrington said.

A knee injury that was slow to heal cost Arrington all but four games of the 2004 season. He missed time in training camp while recovering from his second surgery on the knee, then found himself in an unfamiliar situation.

Redskins coaches not only would not return him to the starting lineup, they would not put him on the field.

After getting sparse time against Chicago, Dallas and Seattle, Arrington did not play against Denver and played only on special teams at Kansas City.

All manner of justifications have been offered.

Coach Joe Gibbs, normally a patient man willing to address any question, tired of questions about Arrington and declared he had said all he had to say on the matter.

Gibbs did step in to resolve a contract dispute between Arrington and the front office in the summer. It's unlikely he expected the result to be more controversy over Arrington's playing time.

That controversy might be over now, but no one can say for sure.

Arrington led the Redskins with nine tackles against San Francisco. He had a sack in the 52-17 victory.

He came across the field to chase down 49ers quarterback Alex Smith once and had some bone-jarring tackles on other plays.

But the 49ers are in the running for the worst team in the NFL. A truer test of how the coaching staff feels about Arrington's return will come Sunday.

The Redskins visit the New York Giants in what promises to be a hard-hitting, tension-filled NFC East contest.

Arrington has said all the right things during his exile. He continued to do so after Sunday's game, choosing to praise assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams rather than question him.

"Gregg Williams brings the house, and he brings it in so many different ways," Arrington said. "I don't care what package [i play in]. I don't care how they use me. I was just happy to be out there.

"I'm overwhelmed in this experience. I'm healthy. I feel a lot better physically. I feel like I can get a little bit better, improve a little bit more."

The fans certainly noticed Arrington. They missed him when he trotted onto the field for a second-down play in the 49ers' first possession, then trotted off unobtrusively.

But when he came onto the field during the 49ers' second possession, again on second down, a roar went up from the stands. And every time Arrington made a play, a roar went up.

"I love them for that," Arrington said. "I attribute 90 percent of my success to them. How can you block someone with the type of energy they gave me?"

Arrington also energizes the Redskins' defense. Few players in the league possess Arrington's combination of size, speed and power.

"It's funny how his presence changes things," said Redskins middle linebacker Lemar Marshall. "You see the quarterback always focused on LaVar and calling different plays because LaVar is on the field. When he's out there, the offense changes its schemes.

"He's healthy now, he's feeling a lot better, he has more confidence in his knee. And when he's out there feeling confident and playing like he has confidence, it makes our jobs a lot easier."

AND FURTHERMORE: Arrington did not escape the game unscathed. Gibbs said the linebacker had a slight hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin (groin strain) will be given time off from practice this week, but Gibbs expects Griffin will play Sunday. Gibbs also said that rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers, who missed the 49ers game to give his sprained ankle time to heal, should play Sunday.

Contact Paul Woody at (804) 649-6444 or pwoody@timesdispatch.com

This story can be found at: http://www.timesdispatch.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RTD%2FMGArticle%2FRTD_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1128767731316&path=%21sports%21redskins&s=1045855935462

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