Away from right side, Marshall feels left out


CARLISLE, Pa. -- In a summer when the Washington Redskins are trying to restock their defense for another run at the New York Giants, Wilber Marshall feels almost like a displaced person.

His body has been assigned to play left linebacker, but his heart remains firmly entrenched on the right side, where he has played in each of his previous seven NFL seasons.

"It's a big difference," Marshall said of the new job description. "I've never played there in my life."

The Redskins decided in the off-season to switch their outside linebackers, Andre Collins and Marshall. Collins, a second-round draft pick in 1990, goes from the left to the right side.

The logic behind the move is that Marshall is better suited than Collins to shucking the tight end and stuffing the run. Because most offenses like to run right, the tight end is most often lined up on the defensive left side.

As a rookie last year, left side linebacker Collins did an "adequate job" playing the run, according to defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello.

"I had a little misgiving about Andre taking on the tight end out of college because he never was asked to do that," Peccatiello said. "He's not the biggest linebacker in the league [6 feet 1, 230 pounds], and on the other side there will be less confrontations with the tight end."

What the switch probably means for Marshall (6-2, 230) is fewer sack opportunities if not fewer big plays. Since his celebrated arrival in Washington in 1988 as a free agent, Marshall has been sensitive to criticism that he doesn't make as many big plays with the Redskins as he did with the Chicago Bears. And, indeed, while Marshall twice went to the Pro Bowl as a Bear, he has not gone in three seasons with the Redskins.

"Yeah, I'd like to be over there [on the right side]," he said. "I made a lot of big plays there last year and the years before that. They think it's beneficial to the team if I'm over on the left stopping the run. The reason they brought me here was to help the team, not to be a big-play person."

The Redskins will pay Marshall, 29, a base salary of $1.2 million this season to wrestle with tight ends and pin ballcarriers. Guarded though he is, frustration seeps through the conversation when Marshall talks about the switch.

"I just want to play as hard as I can," he said. "I have a lot of goals I want to get. I'm trying to work in the system . . . [but] I know people out there want me turned loose [to chase the quarterback]."

In a profession where flash often draws more attention than grit, right outside linebacker has become recognized as a blitzing position. Curiously enough, Marshall had just five sacks last season playing on the right side and Collins six on the left.

L Peccatiello nevertheless understands Marshall's frustration.

"I can't blame him," Peccatiello said. "The guy has been playing the right side throughout his career. Now he's been asked to switch and I can justify his feelings. But I don't think it will hurt his production at all."

For his part, Collins, 22, insists there is little difference between the two positions.

"There are no new plays for me to learn, no new terminology," he said. "The tight end will still show up on my side."

Collins admits he played tentatively early last season. "I was second-guessing myself in the middle of a play," he said, "and that's not the way to play football."

By their Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas, though, the Redskins were encouraged enough to use him on third down in the nickel defense.

"The Dallas game, that was my coming out," Collins said. "They bumped up my responsibilities to third down and when I put my hand in the huddle, I felt more a part of the team."

Collins closed the season with a string of good games. He finished with 93 tackles, fifth on the team, and was only the second rookie under coach Joe Gibbs to start all 16 games. With 107 tackles, Marshall went over the century mark for the third straight year.

Now they've switched roles as the Redskins try to find a lineup capable of beating the Giants. Whether this one works is one of the more intriguing questions of training camp.

"They're experimenting with us right now," Marshall said. "They've got to find out what will go. If it works, fine. If it doesn't, they'll move us back."

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