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At start, top picks not both starters


ASHBURN, Va. - The two prized rookies stood side-by-side on draft day, clutching Redskins jerseys.

LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels gave the Redskins what they wanted - a play-making linebacker to help improve the league's 30th-ranked defense and a mammoth tackle to protect quarterback Brad Johnson's blind side.

Both were penciled in as starters. Yet only one retained his role, while the other will see spot duty off the bench in Sunday's season opener against the Carolina Panthers.

Samuels has been everything the Redskins have asked for. He missed only one practice during the preseason, picked up his assignments quickly and showed the dominant pass-protecting ability that made him the draft's No. 3 pick out of Alabama. Samuels did not give up a sack his senior season.

Arrington, however, struggled early and often. On his first day of practice, tight end James Jenkins planted him face-down in the ground. He made a ton of errors in the opening preseason game at Tampa, which virtually cemented his second-string status.

"LaVar is competitive and wants to be in there," defensive end Marco Coleman said. "He has always been the man from junior high school up until now. But this is the NFL. You have to take your lumps. But he will be all right."

Things have been better for Arrington. The last two weeks of preseason, he looked more comfortable with the defense and his new position playing over the tight end.

He came into training camp a week late because of a contract dispute, and missed a minicamp for the birth of his child. He also is playing a different position than at Penn State, where he was allowed to roam more in the middle and at weak-side linebacker.

In the last two preseason games, Arrington made plays (monster hits against a Cleveland Browns running back and the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterbacks) similar to the ones he made for Penn State.

Coach Norv Turner has not set a time when he expects Arrington to start, but at his current pace, it should happen within the next few weeks.

"I've never played strong-side linebacker on the defense," Arrington said. "So it was totally new for me.

"I'm starting to figure it out a little bit. My legs are really starting to work with me. I'm visualizing, and now my body is starting to do it with me. So it's getting better."

Unlike Samuels, Arrington has time. Starter Greg Jones is doing well.

But Samuels had to be ready to play from the moment he showed up to Redskins Park. Last season's starter, Andy Heck, missed half of training camp because of a back injury, leaving all the first-team work to Samuels.

That also left Samuels to face future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith every day in practice, accelerating his development.

"Am I ready for the regular season? I don't have any choice but to be ready," Samuels said. "I'm feeling confident at this point. I've been getting a lot of good work against Bruce Smith. That is a good edge for me going into the first game."

Samuels' confidence in himself is shared by his teammates. The two guys who need him the most, Johnson and backup quarterback Jeff George, say he is playing far above a rookie level.

"I feel completely comfortable with Chris out there," Johnson said.

George said: "Chris Samuels is going to be one of the best tackles in the league."

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