There's no question that Sunday's game against Philadelphia was a big one for linebacker LaVar Arrington. After weeks of uncertainty regarding his playing time, Arrington was named a team captain for the game, started for the first time in six weeks, and logged a team-high 10 tackles according to coach's review of the game film.
On the Saturday night before the game, Arrington asked to address his teammates in a meeting at the team hotel.
According to players who were at the meeting, Arrington spoke about coming together as a team and playing for the love of the game, just as they did in college.
Said linebacker Marcus Washington: "He wants us to bring that same intensity when we were all in college and everybody is jumping around, excited to play the game because you love it. He wants us to have that energy, that brotherhood and that pride."
After Wednesday's practice, Arrington said he had called the meeting to make sure there that the team was focused and together heading into the divisional showdown against Philadelphia. He alluded to the lingering Terrell Owens controversy in Philadelphia and wanted to make sure that his teammates were all together.
"I've been around here for a while and I just wanted to make sure that no matter the situation we're in, we're a team," Arrington said. "Sometimes those things are said, but not really as heartfelt as they could be. When I talked to them, it was just about us coming together, just letting it loose on Sunday and being about us.
"You hear about all of these things surrounding the guy from Philly. As big of a game that it was, it was sad that the attention was somewhere else. I just wanted to make sure that as a unit we didn't let it distract us, because it could have been a distraction."
Arrington even came up with a nickname for the defense: "The U," as in "The Unit." It's uncertain whether that one will catch on, since the University of Miami is widely regarded as "The U."
But no matter. In a way, the nickname also calls to mind playing football with passion, just like in college. Arrington said as much when he referenced watching his alma mater, Penn State, win on Saturday.
When Arrington was not playing as much earlier in the season, he decided that, when he did get back on the field, he would never take playing time for granted ever again.
"The one thing I realize is that every game is a precious game and you want to be a part of it," he said. "Whether I start or not, it's not about me, it's about this team and this unit."
When Arrington entered Sunday night's game with the starting unit, he acknowledged that he felt a wave of emotion as the fans' applause reached a crescendo. Arrington pumped his fist in the air just before the first play.
"It was pretty cool, huh," Arrington said. "That's what I was thinking. Wow, I'm really in here. It was a great deal."
As for how he feels physically following his most extensive playing time of the season, Arrington said: "It's getting there. Definitely. I'm getting more and more acclimated to what's going on physically, to go along with how I'm picking things up mentally. So I feel pretty good. After Sunday's game, I was pretty sore, but I worked a lot of the kinks out today running around in practice."
Head coach Joe Gibbs praised Arrington's practice work during the last few weeks.
"His preparation over the last two or three weeks has been excellent and it reflected in his play and the plays that he has made for us," Gibbs said. "We need playmakers and LaVar is capable of doing that for us and capable of making big plays."
This week, Arrington was shifted to first on the Redskins' depth chart at weak-side linebacker, ahead of Warrick Holdman, for the first time this season.
Washington said he is glad to have him back. Sunday's game against Philadelphia was the first time both he and Arrington had played the bulk of a game together since Week 2 of the 2004 season.
A few days after that game, Arrington would undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knee, sidelining him for most of the season.
"With LaVar in there, you can't just key in on one person and try to run away from them," Washington said. "When you have someone like LaVar who can make big plays out there and is a real presence, it gives me a chance to get a little more action my way."