Although LaVar Arrington's arbitration hearing with the Washington Redskins has been set for Nov. 2, near the middle of the regular season, the linebacker says he is optimistic that the $6.5 million contract dispute will not become a distraction.

"I'm done with it. It's case closed," Arrington said yesterday, alluding to his mental approach. "Win or lose, I win in the end. There's no reason for me to keep going back and forth about it. It's time to play ball."

The hearing is expected to last no more than two days before likely arbitrator Richard Bloch makes a decision. The Redskins' eighth game of the season is Nov. 7 against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

The case was originally scheduled for Sept. 21. Arrington and the Redskins had pushed for a date next week so that the matter would be addressed during training camp, but scheduling conflicts led to the November date.

The sides failed to reach a resolution of the dispute during the offseason despite the involvement of Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, and the urging of Coach Joe Gibbs.

Arrington believes that the Redskins omitted a $6.5 million roster bonus that was agreed upon from an eight-year, $68 million extension signed in December. Arrington has said that one of his agents, Carl Poston, didn't have a chance to properly examine the contract because of deadline pressure.

"Right now I feel poised to give everything I have to have a great year, to lead this team," Arrington said. "That's my main focus; that's my main concern."

Noble Focused on Opener

Defensive tackle Brandon Noble hasn't had any setbacks while recuperating from a severe knee injury that caused him to miss the 2003 season. He said his goal is to be in the starting lineup for the season opener on Sept. 12 vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field.

"It's still realistic to think that I can go play in that first game," he said. "Obviously, we'll see how it holds up during camp and how things progress. But I think we'll be able to do it. I'm looking forward to it."

Noble dislocated a kneecap and tore two ligaments last preseason in a 20-13 loss to the New England Patriots when his left leg became caught beneath three players. Noble was placed on the injured reserve list and his career was believed to be in jeopardy.

In early June, during Gibbs's final minicamp, Noble participated in his first practice. If he is not ready for the opener, the Redskins have no clear-cut replacement starter. The possibilities are Joe Salave'a, Jermaine Haley and rookie Norman Heuer.

Support for R. Williams

Miami Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams's stunning decision to retire from the NFL was still reverberating at Redskins Park yesterday. A few players questioned the timing, yet their support for Williams's decision was almost unanimous.

"It's so stupid to sit there and call him selfish," Arrington said. "If the man doesn't want to play ball anymore, then I would think that that's being considerate. I don't want somebody on my roster that doesn't want to play. . . .

"There's actually some intelligent [football players] walking around. That's one of the eye-openers of the year: We do this because we love to do it.

"Everybody changes careers. It's no different. This is a career just like any other. You make a lot of money obviously, but if you're not happy doing it, what's good with the money?"

Tailback Clinton Portis joked that he is considering retirement: "I met with Coach Gibbs this morning. My dog is real sick. A couple of my fish died the other day. So I might miss this week of camp and contemplate what I might do."

Coles's Toe Looks Good

Wide receiver Laveranues Coles possesses the most scrutinized toe at Redskins Park. He played with a fractured right big toe for much of last season and didn't undergo surgery. In offseason workouts, the coaching staff cut back on Coles's participation and he was fitted with a special shoe.

Yesterday, Coles declined to comment because he said he was in a rush. But cornerback Fred Smoot said: "The toe is all right, man. Don't worry about the toe. He opened that toe up today on the first play of practice."