By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
On a Saturday night last March, Adam Archuleta, Antwaan Randle El, Todd Collins and Andre Carter were welcomed in style by the Washington Redskins' coaches and upper management, including owner Daniel Snyder. A multiple-limousine convoy shuttled the group to Morton's for filet mignon and seafood, and to a Washington Wizards game, where they received a standing ovation when their faces were shown on the scoreboard.
It was a glittering evening in an offseason that stoked expectations, a moment of smart-spending muscle that would be remembered when the Redskins met those expectations on the field.
Archuleta was the handpicked choice of assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, but those days in March when he would conceptualize with Williams until the late hours -- the courtship culminated in a six-year, $30 million contract with $10 million guaranteed, a record for a safety -- have been the high point for him in Washington.
Yesterday at Redskins Park, Archuleta spoke for the first time in detail about losing his starting job to the newly acquired Troy Vincent, as well as his difficult adjustment to no longer being merely a member of a football team, but a high-profile free agent signing whose every move on the field is scrutinized.
"I wasn't born with a silver spoon, so to come in here with this high-profile situation was, well, I'm not used to that," Archuleta said. "I allowed that as well as other things to be a distraction, and let those things get in the way of truly what is important, and really who I am and what I've done to get to this point in my career and be the kind of player I was. I kind of lost sight of that."
Earlier in the season, defensive lineman Phillip Daniels said he spoke to Carter -- who also signed a $30 million deal that March weekend -- and to a lesser extent Archuleta about the trappings that come with being the big-money signings of an offseason. Daniels said the psychological impact of receiving a big contract by itself could force a talented player to fail.
In a sense, Archuleta has become the symbol of a high-priced but underachieving defense. Even though the defense has been leaky in numerous areas, at linebacker and especially the pass rush -- no team in football has produced fewer sacks per play than the Redskins -- Archuleta was the only regular to lose his job. Even so, Archuleta is third on the team in tackles with 54 (behind Marcus Washington and Sean Taylor, who each have 55) and leads the team in solo tackles with 44.
"Every player has strengths and weaknesses, and in my opinion and in the opinion of a lot of other people, I excel underneath," he said. "A lot of people said, and I've come under a lot criticism over my career that I can't cover, that I can't do this and I can't do that. Do I agree with it? No. Are there a lot of other safeties who are better in the passing game than me? Absolutely.
"Unfortunately, our secondary has given up some big plays this year and I've been a part of that. But ultimately, it's my responsibility."
After Sunday's win, the Redskins again fell in the NFL defensive rankings. Washington was 26th in total yards allowed per game entering the game but now is 30th, ahead of the 4-4 New York Jets and 2-6 Tennessee Titans. Of the 19 defensive categories the league charts, the Redskins are 29th or worse in seven, including last in yards allowed per pass play, interceptions and sacks per pass play.
Archuleta said it was painful to not be on the field as a regular for the first time in eight games with Washington.
"Yeah, that's an understatement, but this is the way things are meant to be," he said. "I've always had detractors and people trying to pull me down my whole life, and this is one more thing. To me, it's one more obstacle, and this will make me a better player, a stronger player. And you better believe I will come back and play the way I'm capable of playing."
Some of what Archuleta said was guarded, as he clearly was unwilling to engage beyond a certain level of detail. He has not been happy in Washington, and some teammates have said he is playing with such broken confidence that even routine plays have become difficult.
"There are a lot of things. There's a lot of parts to the equation. There's some things I really don't need to get into at this point, but at the end of the day it's my responsibility. It's up to me, and when I'm on the field I have to play well. It's my responsibility to myself and to my teammates when I'm out there that I have to make plays. Ultimately, the responsibility belongs to me."
In Sunday's win, Archuleta played mostly in third-down passing situations that featured six defensive backs, while Vincent played at safety in the base formations and those that featured five defensive backs, with Kenny Wright as the nickel back. Williams said after the game that this would be part of Archuleta's new role, to be what Williams called a "hybrid safety-hybrid linebacker." On some of the big plays this season, Archuleta has been beaten in zone coverage, often by a play-action fake, but he said he isn't confused by the complexity of Williams's defense.
"Do I think this scheme is that complex? In reality, it's not. There are fundamentals and basics. There's a lot of disguising, a lot of camouflaging and window dressing," he said. "But when you really strip it down, the fundamentals are the fundamentals. And as a player, I made things a lot more complex than they actually were, and that's my fault.
"It's been an up-and-down year. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I've had a lot of adversity thrown my way. And for whatever reason, this is the situation that presented itself. This is the way things are meant to be. It's just a matter of me getting back to who I am and what's important to me and playing the game the way I see it, through my eyes and not through someone else's, and it will work out."