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In the Early Going, Trotter's Going Fine


By Mark Maske

Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 30, 2003; Page D08

Perhaps the most encouraging thing the Washington Redskins have seen in the first two days of training camp is that middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is practicing often and well.

The Redskins thought they were getting a Pro Bowl middle linebacker to go with their Pro Bowl outside linebacker, LaVar Arrington, when they signed Trotter prior to last season to a seven-year, $36 million contract that included a $7 million signing bonus. But Trotter never made a major impact, then had his season ended four games early by a torn knee ligament suffered during a loss at Dallas on Thanksgiving.

Coach Steve Spurrier entered camp saying Trotter likely would participate in only one practice on days when the team practiced twice. But Trotter has participated in every practice, and said he has cleared the mental hurdle that comes with returning from a major injury.

"It's a big weight off my shoulders," Trotter said. "I wasn't worried, but you're still human. You train hard. You work hard. You know the knee's fine. But at the same time, there's a mental part you have to get over. I really worked on that as hard as I worked on rehabbing the knee. . . . I'm pacing myself for a long season and not trying to overdo it right now, but it feels great."

Trotter graded his performance last season as "below average to average." Like many of his counterparts on defense, he says he struggled to learn former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis's system and felt shackled at times by Lewis's highly disciplined schemes.

"I was just out there running around, trying to make tackles," Trotter said. "I didn't really know where to go. It always makes a big difference when you have a year under your belt. I can already tell. I feel a lot more comfortable."

New coordinator George Edwards, the team's linebackers coach last season, is keeping many of the basics of Lewis's system. But Trotter says that he, like Arrington, will be allowed more freedom.

"Last year I was asked to kind of sit back and be patient, which is not my game," Trotter said. "George is going to allow me to play my style of defense, which is playing downhill and attacking and making the offense go where we want them to go. . . . I want to come back, lead the team in tackles, go to the Pro Bowl and be all-pro -- just get back to being the player that I was. . . . Last year was a new system for me. I have no excuses this year. You can expect great things. I'm much more in tune with the system. I know what George expects of me. I expect to be back at a Pro Bowl level."

Said Arrington: "He looks a lot more comfortable with this attacking style of defense we have, attacking the gaps. It makes a difference for a guy like Jeremiah. He's a straight-downhill, punch-you-in-the-mouth-type player."

More Money, More Money

Redskins officials said they plan to use the $3.5 million they saved yesterday by releasing defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson on deals for other players. Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey is entering the final season of his contract and is awaiting an offer on an extension from the team. "You only have so much money and so much [salary] cap space," said Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' vice president of football operations. "For us to be able to do things in the future with other people's contracts, we couldn't afford to pay Dan Wilkinson $3.5 million. This enables us to take that money and sign guys we have coming up. Champ would definitely be in that category."

Betts Is Back

Tailback Ladell Betts was on the field yesterday after missing Monday's practices because of a family matter. Betts made some eye-catching plays during the morning practice but suffered a sprained left elbow during the afternoon practice. He likely will be sidelined today.

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