After each training camp practice, spectators scream for linebacker LaVar Arrington as he leaves the field. When Arrington stops to sign autographs, the noise reaches a fever pitch. But during defensive meetings, Arrington's name isn't even a whisper. The 6-foot-3, 253-pound weak-side linebacker isn't fully recovered from a serious knee injury that forced him to miss 12 games last season with a bone bruise.
Arrington, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, is the team's most popular player. But such factors don't matter to Gregg Williams, assistant head coach of defense, and his well-regarded staff. Last season, Williams and company used several obscure players such as Lemar Marshall -- in place of Arrington -- to finish third in the NFL.
Without Arrington, the Redskins have turned to Warrick Holdman, who had a solid season with the Cleveland Browns last year. Holdman has reunited with linebackers coach Dale Lindsey and defensive coordinator Greg Blache, both of whom coached him to his best years in Chicago. Holdman reached the Pro Bowl in 2002 as Chicago won the NFC Central.
Williams's philosophy is that each player must earn his way into the starting lineup; even strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington, the team's sole Pro Bowl player last season.
If Arrington's first two games last season are any indication -- he totaled 15 tackles and one sack -- it's almost a matter of health before he returns to being a major contributor.
FRESH FACE: ARTRELL HAWKINS
Who He Is: Hawkins is a seven-year veteran who signed with the team in June. A second-round pick in 1998, Hawkins has played in 103 games, making 76 starts, and has 450 tackles, 71 pass deflections, 10 interceptions and 3 sacks.
How He's Doing: Hawkins has been out with a strained hamstring since the second day of practice, and it has hampered his ability to show coaches what he can do. "To be able to show what you can do, you have to be able to practice. I have to hope that in time it will get better," Hawkins said. "Time is the biggest thing, which is kind of a thing that there's not a lot of, which puts me a little bit under the gun." Redskins Director of Sports Medicine Bubba Tyer said he did not think Hawkins would be able to play in the team's opening preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday.
Chances of Making the Roster: The defensive secondary is riddled with injuries, so if Hawkins can make it back to the field healthy, he may have a shot. "I've played for a long time," said Hawkins. "These [injuries] you can't rush. Of course I want to make the team, but right now it's out of my hands. I just do what I can do every day and let the chips fall where they may."
"I've still been eating cheeseburgers at 1 in the morning. I still get up and eat hot wings."
Tailback Clinton Portis, on gaining weight in the offseason
COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF
Days until the Redskins play the Bears at FedEx Field
-- Nunyo Demasio and Daniel Lyght