An armada of Washington Redskins players trudged off the field at Redskins Park after yesterday's minicamp practice, and most headed to the locker room. Linebacker Mike Barrow took a right detour to the weight room, stepped on the treadmill and raced for several minutes as dreadlocks danced atop his head.

Barrow, who turned 34 in April, is the NFL equivalent of a senior citizen. However, his workout habits have helped the 12-year veteran play as if at a much younger age, spurring Washington to sign him as a replacement for the released Jeremiah Trotter.

"Most people when I do tell them my age, they are surprised," said Barrow, who has missed only five games in his NFL career. "Just because God has blessed me with no major injuries, and because of the way I prepare and take care of my body, I've got a young heart and young spirit. People tell me I play like this is my fifth or sixth year in the league. Physically, I think I'm just a late bloomer. I didn't get facial hair until I was about 20."

LaVar Arrington, Washington's uber-athletic linebacker known for his ability to play from sideline to sideline, was surprised to learn that Barrow actually has a quicker first step. Arrington, 25, said he first noticed it in film review of practices during position meetings.

"He's got a quick first step," Arrington said. "I was surprised. He can go. Plus, he just analyzes really quickly."

The quicker the first step toward the hole, said Arrington, the better the chances of making a play. Last season, Barrow's quickness helped him amass a career-high 148 tackles (including 109 solo), which led the NFC. It was the third straight season in which Barrow led the New York Giants in tackles. He has accumulated at least 100 tackles in seven of his 11 NFL seasons

Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense, was the linebackers coach for the then-Houston Oilers in 1993, when the club drafted Barrow in the second round. Over four seasons, Williams saw a strong work ethic and football smarts that remain.

"There's more than being a real pro than just [being] out there on Sundays," Williams said. "It's the things you do off the field too: the way you go about training your body, the way you work in the offseason program, the way you study the game. I'm going to look for an awful lot out of him to teach these young guys how to break down opponents."

Cornerback Fred Smoot said: "Playing against him, you don't really get to know him. I just didn't know he was that smart. He's really intelligent and knows what all 11 people are supposed to do on the field."

After every season ends, Barrow mostly rests for about a month. He then returns to run long distances and works out on the treadmill at the University of Miami, where he helped win a national championship. By March, Barrow starts a regimen on the track, where he does long sprints, working incrementally downward from 400 yards. In April, Barrow undergoes a "Walter Payton" workout, which involves running up a hill.

"I think he's different from a 34-year-old," Gibbs said. "He's a legend the way he works out and takes care of himself."

After Barrow aced a physical at Redskins Park in April, the club signed him to a six-year, $13 million deal (including a $2.5 million bonus).

"At first we didn't think we had a chance," Gibbs recalled yesterday. But Barrow said that Gibbs played a critical role by calling him daily, influencing his choice of Washington over the Denver Broncos.

The Giants released Barrow in March largely because he was due a $1 million roster bonus that month and was scheduled to earn another $3.45 million this season. Barrow declined to re-sign with New York for $2 million, an amount the club said it was forced to offer because of salary cap constraints.

"We hated to see him go; he played well for us," Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi said in a telephone interview last week. "I don't see any falloff in his game. There's no question he can still play well."

Redskins Note: Arrington put a scare into safety Sean Taylor yesterday, sneaking up behind the rookie while he was speaking to the media after a minicamp practice and hitting him in the face with a shaving cream pie. The prank -- something Williams called "part of being a rookie" -- left Taylor shaken and yelling that he could not see.

Arrington helped Taylor wipe the cream from his face when he realized the youngster was having difficulty with his vision. Cornerback Shawn Springs was nearby, and he too tended to Taylor.

Taylor, who was the fifth overall pick in the draft and is unsigned at this time, was not seriously injured and left Redskins Park normally.

"I got him good, but I got him too good," Arrington said while leaving Redskins Park. "That's horrible. I feel bad now. But he'll be all right. . . . I've done that before and I've had it done to me, and I've never seen that. He panicked. He scared the bejesus out of me."

Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.

Redskins linebacker Mike Barrow doesn't appear to be acting his age, 34. He has a quicker first step than LaVar Arrington.