The face of the Washington Redskins was grim and dripping with sweat as LaVar Arrington underwent agility drills early in yesterday's practice at Redskins Park. Working out with defensive lineman Brandon Noble, who is also injured, Arrington zigzagged for a few yards, then jogged the length of a field near the main one where the rest of the team practiced.
The scenario was symbolic for the star linebacker whose contract dispute against the Redskins has stretched to 17 months and essentially kept Arrington separated from the front office. Both sides are attempting a resolution that would be concluded with a financial settlement this week.
Last season was just as strange as the offseason for Arrington. A bone bruise caused him to miss 12 games and the defense, with Lemar Marshall emerging from obscurity to fill in for Arrington, ranked third overall in the NFL.
"When LaVar Arrington gets back on the field, he's going to be an animal," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "He's going to go all out. He doesn't have anything to prove because obviously we all know he's a great player. But he's ready to get back on the field and be a great player."
Bubba Tyer, the Redskins' director of sports medicine, said yesterday that Arrington was "progressing extremely well," without providing a time frame.
Arrington has declined to speak to the media since April, when he criticized the franchise for issues dealing with his injury and grievance, then admonished the media for how his remarks were construed. (Coach Joe Gibbs had denied Arrington's contentions, and said that Arrington was probably venting his frustration.)
Yesterday, Arrington offered a brief remark to a reporter, and said he would speak to the media extensively on another day. "I'm just happy to be here," Arrington said after practice. "I'm just glad to have a chance to get out there and give the fans what they are looking for."
Linebacker Marcus Washington was more expansive: "He's been going through some tough things, some things that don't really pertain to on-the-field stuff. He's just trying to concentrate more on on-the-field stuff. He's very happy to be here with the guys. He says he's feeling as good as he's felt with that knee. He's excited.
"Once he gets out there, playing heals a lot of stuff. And a lot of that stuff will go out the window. I think LaVar will feel a lot better mentally. And I know I'll feel a lot better mentally having him out there."
Despite Washington's stingy defense last season, the unit didn't make enough big plays and there is plenty of room for improvement. The defense produced 26 takeaways -- 18 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries -- better than only six clubs in the 16-team NFC.
"I've seen [Arrington] make a lot of big plays here," linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said. "So he can help us in the big-play department. He's a force to be reckoned with when he's healthy and he's playing right."
Still, he must fit into this defense. Gregg Williams's group flourished with several obscure players -- the regular season finale had eight starters whom Williams said weren't in the season opener -- and took pride in being a starless team. (Washington was the sole Pro Bowl selection.)
Arrington stands out on the defense with his immense popularity, contract, star power and talent. But will he have to prove himself to a defensive staff with assistants such as Lindsey, whom players describe as something of a drill sergeant?
"Every single one of them have to prove their worth," Williams said. "It doesn't make any difference. Marcus Washington happens to be the Pro Bowler from last year. He's got to earn his spot. He's going to have to earn his playing time this year."
Last Wednesday, Arrington and team officials met at Redskins Park and apparently overcame their differences. According to a league source familiar with the meeting, National Football League Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw, owner Daniel Snyder and Gibbs attended the talks. According to one person present at the meeting yesterday, Upshaw was instrumental in brokering the framework of a deal.
Before the get-together, the acrimony had been so sharp between the linebacker and the organization, said one club source, that the Redskins stopped featuring Arrington in their marketing.
According to another person with knowledge of the situation, last Wednesday's meeting was spurred when Arrington called Gibbs.
Arrington originally filed the grievance in March 2004, contending that the Redskins omitted $6.5 million in bonuses agreed upon for the 2006 season. If negotiations fall through, another arbitration date is expected to be set for Sept. 20.
Williams believes that Arrington's play won't be affected by the dispute.
"We talked about it the first day, and I said: 'You can't bring it over here,' " Williams said. "And you know what? To his credit, it's super of him: He's never brought it over there. Not once."
After yesterday's practice, Arrington was interrupted by loud calls from a coterie of young fans under several corporate tents. He was mobbed when he altered his route to sign their footballs, T-shirts and paraphernalia. "Feeling better?" one fan asked. "Getting there. I appreciate you for asking," Arrington responded.
The linebacker -- walking with his wife, who is expecting their first child -- plopped into a tub of ice with safety Matt Bowen near the backdoor of the facility.
"I still see '56' jerseys all over," Marshall said. "You see some Clinton Portis jerseys. But you see mostly LaVar Arrington jerseys. To me, he's still definitely the face of the Redskins."