Key players: LaVar Arrington, Jeremiah Trotter, Jessie Armstead.
Others to watch: Kevin Mitchell, Lemar Marshall, Shamar Finney.
Keep an eye on: Rookie Chris Clemons from Georgia, an undrafted free agent.
Say goodbye to: Eddie Mason. The respected veteran was not offered a contract, though he was a solid backup and excellent special teams member. Both are jobs that can be filled by faster, younger players. Or so the Redskins hope. Mason was a favorite of ours.
Strengths: The overall speed of the starting group. They can compensate for the sins of others because of this and also make plays. Safety Matt Bowen said he was amazed by the LB's speed, something that struck him immediately in the first minicamp.
Recovery time: Trotter appears to be fully recovered from his reconstructive knee surgery, though we wouldn't be surprised if he takes practices off this summer. Trotter was just starting to come around last season when he was hurt. But he rarely played with the same instinctiveness that he showed in Philly. Trotter must become that player again to help the Redskins. Part of his transition stemmed from being asked to drop so much into coverage, something he hadn't done in the past. It made him more complete, but it also caused some struggles.
LaVar's change: As we told you way back on the first day George Edwards was hired as coordinator, Arrington will be used differently this year. He won't line up at DE as much as he did a year ago, when Arrington was often overmatched. What's the point of having your best playmaker in that situation? Edwards agrees and he'll use Arrington's athleticism from the standup position to harass the passer. Arrington must make big plays for this defense to be good. And that sometimes means letting him freelance a little.
Good to have you back: to Kevin Mitchell. He wanted to go somewhere he could start. Those options weren't available, so he returns here as a respected backup. Considering Trotter's injury, that's good news for the Redskins. He'll also help on special teams. Also, his presence means the Redskins likely will use numerous 3-4 fronts, something they used on occasion last year.
Wondering about: Antonio Pierce. The Marty Schottenheimer favorite was injured much of last year and rarely mentioned by the coaches. I also wonder how much Armstead has left. But I know he's good for at least another year. He was steady a year ago and there's no reason to think that'll change. He sometimes looks quicker than he is because of his anticipation. When Trotter's right, the same can be said of him. At times during the 2002 training camp Trotter looked awesome because of his anticipation skills, reading a play immediately and sprinting past the blocker to the ballcarrier.
Battle: For the backup LB spots. Lemar Marshall played a decent amount in the season's last two games, mostly in a nickel role. Orantes Grant impressed some coaches in the final weeks after being signed.
Weakness: Depth at outside LB. Heaven forbid something happens to Armstead or Arrington. Also, the pass coverage needs to be more consistent.
What I'd like to see: Arrington become a consistent leader. That means always facing the heat. Armstead played that role in New York, but said that wasn't his job in Washington considering he was no longer paid the so-called big money. Arrington is. And, as good an interview as he is and as engaging as he can be, he sometimes ducked the press. True team leaders must be more consistent in this area and take the heat. Also, when Arrington talks, he always has something to say. This guy understands the history of the game and his potential role in it. He has an old-school mentality and is fun to interview.
Scouting the Linebackers
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