In the early stages of his NFL career with the Redskins, LaVar Arrington saw Pro Bowl players and high-profile characters just about everywhere he looked.
As a rookie in 2000, for instance, the 6-3, 255-pound linebacker out of Penn State played on a Redskins team that featured Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders. Brad Johnson and Stephen Davis. Darrell Green and Irving Fryar. Jeff George and Champ Bailey.
It seemed there was a celebrity (or two, or three) on every corner.
But it's not that way any longer for the second pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Celebrity status is out these days; fitting into the Redskins' schemes is in.
Arrington began learning about that process on Friday night at FedExField, where the Redskins faced his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Redskins won the game 17-10, with Arrington involved in about 20 plays, mostly in the second half.
Arrington seems to be getting the point, that the landscape has changed.
The Redskins' No. 56 put it this way earlier in the week: "My teammates and my coaches have really invested a lot in me and each other. It's a cool deal. Coach [Dale] Lindsey is giving us all an opportunity to be successful.
"Guys like Marcus Washington and Chris Clemons have raised the bar. Warrick Holdman is playing really hard. It's a healthy competition."
Those were the most insightful comments from Arrington, who--rather inexplicably--went onto suggest that, at the tender age of 27, some people are considering him "washed up."
After an injury-riddled 2004 season of frustration, Arrington, the three-time Pro Bowler, actually spoke in noticeably optimistic terms on Wednesday. He said of Friday night's game against the Steelers: "It'll be fun, getting back in front of our fans. I can't wait."
Put simply, it was refreshing to hear the word "fun" as part of Arrington's vocabulary. Arrington has known Steelers head coach Bill Cowher since he was a high school phenom at North Hills in Pittsburgh. That's just one of the reasons he likes to face the Steelers.
Gregg Williams, the Redskins assistant head coach-defense, says he's excited about having Arrington back. The linebacker says his knee feels OK but that he needs to get into game shape. Williams considers every day "a testing ground" in terms of Arrington's progression.
Adds head coach Joe Gibbs: "I know it will be good to see LaVar back in there. You have a player who's been able to dominate when he's on the field."
Back in the 2001 season, when the Redskins started 0-5, Arrington lifted the team off its back with a spectacular interception and 67-yard return for a touchdown versus Carolina at FedExField.
His most impressive game as a Redskin came four weeks later, though, at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. As the central figure in Kurt Schottenheimer's defensive scheme, Arrington shadowed Donovan McNabb that day and played a key role in the Redskins' 13-3 win in Philadelphia.
That win in Philadelphia marked the Redskins' fifth in a row and put them back in the playoff picture. After the game, Arrington was asked about the team's remarkable turnaround. "A sleeping giant," he responded, "has been awakened."
Four years later, the Redskins are hoping to be able to say much the same about their outside linebacker.