The Washington Redskins did not practice this morning -- they take the field at 4 p.m. today -- which meant that Lemar Marshall knew he remained the starting middle linebacker for at least a few more hours.
Marshall was one of a handful of players who went from complete obscurity to regular contributor last season, filling in admirably with Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington out for most of 2004, but with this coaching staff playing time must be earned on a per practice basis. Linebacker coach Dale Lindsey will concede that Marshall was a top performer during the offseason program, making the difficult adjustment to middle linebacker -- the most vital position in this system -- but the depth chart is constantly in flux and things can change from one practice to the next.
"As far as today, yes, Lemar is a starter," Lindsey said. "By this afternoon, I don't know if I'll feel that way."
Lindsey has been cautious not to praise Marshall too much since he began starting last season, and he while he clearly has developed an affinity for the player the competition for roster spots and playing time at linebacker is high. Marshall, 28, is an un-drafted free agent who bounced around three organizations before signing with the Redskins late in the 2001 season. He had never started a game before last season but went on to start 14 games, putting himself as the leading candidate to be among the three starters when the season begins in September.
"He's got a job now," Lindsey said, "but I told him [Monday] afternoon, 'You've got a job and this is where you are this morning. If you don't like it, do something about it. If you like it, do something to keep it, because it could change this afternoon.' It's up to the player to play. Our thing is we don't care where you're drafted or how much money you're making, if you're the best player, you're going to play."
Marshall is one 13 linebackers on the roster, an indication not only of the significance of that position but also the degree of uncertainty about how it will ultimately shake out. "It's a good group and they're working good," Lindsey said, "but there are a lot of unknowns in there." Arrington's return date remains in question given his injury, veteran middle linebacker Mike Barrow was released before camp began and Antonio Pierce, the starting middle linebacker last season, signed with the New York Giants.
Washington stockpiled versatile linebackers during the offseason and also drafted two -- Robert McCune (fifth round) and Jared Newberry (sixth round) -- and the possibilities are anything but limited. Warrick Holdman, a free agent signing, is playing in Arrington's spot for now in the base formation with Washington entrenched on the strong side, with Khary Campbell, Clifton Smith and Chris Clemons playing on the second team during the first day of practice. Of course, by dinner time tonight all of that could change.
Antonio Brown feels at home
Antonio Brown considers himself an NFL vagabond, but finally someplace feels like home. Brown, a wide receiver who has reached this level primarily due to his speed and return skills, feels like the Redskins are giving him a shot to become involved in the offense as well.
"I think I can be a pretty good receiver," Brown said.
Brown, 26, made several eye-catching receptions during the first day of camp, and Coach Joe Gibbs seems very inclined to use him in certain packages and not just as a return specialist. The Redskins signed Brown last November after Buffalo released him, and he appeared in three games, making Chad Morton, one of Washington's ill-fated 2003 free agent signings, expendable (he was released in June). Receiver Santana Moss will also have a hand in punt returns, Gibbs said, but Brown is the frontrunner to handle those duties in most situations.
"It's an open challenge," Brown said,. "and I'm looking forward to the challenge. As you know, we have Santana, and Santana is a great returner and he's made his mark over five seasons There's a lot of things I can learn from him."
Brown and Moss have raced in the past to determine who is indeed the fast player on the team, and Brown said he undoubtedly considers himself the fastest player in the NFL. "I am," he said, "There's no doubt."