Two mini-camps are behind them. There's one to go, scheduled for early next month. So, if you ask LaVar Arrington to assess how the Redskins of 2004 are shaping up in their early stages, he'll say essentially this: "There are no prima donnas out here. Everybody is just working really hard."
The three-time Pro Bowler won't be teaming with Jessie Armstead and Jeremiah Trotter in his fifth NFL season. Instead, Michael Barrow and Marcus Washington are expected to join Arrington at linebacker in the heart of the Redskins' defense. Although he's just getting to know the former New York Giant and the former Indianapolis Colt, Arrington says both bring a great of energy and a high level of talent to the game.
"I really feel comfortable with this group of guys," Arrington said of the team as a whole. "I just have a good feeling about them. They all are really good people to be around. They want to get better, and they're working hard. I feel really good about how we're working out."
Asked specifically about his new teammates at linebacker, Arrington said: "I didn't know Michael Barrow is as quick as he is, but now I realize why he makes all the tackles that he makes and has made in the past. Marcus is just a physical specimen. He's obviously now one of the biggest linebackers on the team and could possibly be one of the biggest linebackers in the NFL."
The 6-3, 247-pound Washington started in all 16 regular-season games and three playoff contests for Indianapolis a year ago. He produced 97 tackles and six sacks, and is regarded as one of the NFL's ascending players at the linebacker spot.
In the 6-2, 247-pound Barrow, the Redskins have added a 12-year NFL veteran who led the Giants in tackles for the third straight season in 2003. In fact, Barrow's 177 tackles were a career high and Giants single-season record.
For Arrington, finding the communication between the linebackers is not so much important as it is essential.
He puts it this way: "If we're not communicating, then the whole defense is going to be at a loss. So the quicker we can communicate with one another and get it across to everyone else, the better off we are. So, yes, we have to get our communication lines together. We've been doing well, and we're on a good pace."
For now, 11 linebackers are in the mix for the Redskins. In addition to Arrington, Barrow and Washington, the team has veteran talent in Kevin Mitchell, Antonio Pierce and Lemar Marshall. Also trying to impress assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams and linebackers coach Dale Lindsey are Khary Campbell, Chris Clemons, Devin Lemons, Clifton Smith and Billy Strother.
Said Arrington: "Once again, we're learning a new system. We're all learning the same thing for the first time. I think guys are real confident in what we can get accomplished.
"It's all starting to fit together, it's all starting to blend. It's different words and terminology, but the gist is kind of the same, so it makes it a little bit easier. I'm not struggling as much to pick up the defense."
Certainly, one of the players who can really be a force in the Redskins' defensive package is former University of Miami safety Sean Taylor, the Redskins' first-round draft pick and the fifth player selected overall. Arrington showed up to greet Taylor when he first arrived at Redskin Park and has high hopes for the former Hurricane and what he can do for the Redskins.
"He's just a different dude," Arrington said of the 6-2, 231-pound rookie. "I don't think in our lifetime you'll find another Sean Taylor come out of college. That's my opinion. That might be putting some pressure on him, so we're definitely going to let him settle in. He runs and it looks like he's not even trying. He's running faster than everybody. He's so relaxed.
"I look at him and it's getting to the point where it's just scaring me. He looks younger but he doesn't carry himself in a younger manner. He's impressive, and I'm glad we drafted him."
On what Taylor can mean for a defense, Arrington added: "If I hit the ground, I'm firm in my belief that No. 36 will be right behind me, trying to hit the guy just as hard as I am. I can go ahead and fully commit. I feel good about him being behind me. We're evaluating him as players tend to. I think everyone is trying to help him, trying to accelerate his learning, because we're going to need him."