Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington is expected to play Friday against the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first game since Dec. 26. Arrington, who missed 12 games with a knee injury, has been increasing the intensity of workouts after easily passing a conditioning test that consisted of 14 40-yard dashes Aug. 9.

"He's been cleared by the doctors and the trainers," linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said yesterday. "We have not set a plan about how much we're going to play [him], but he's going to play. As far as the last two days at linebacker, he's been a pleasant surprise. He looks like he's back. He looks like he's ready to play."

Arrington said he wasn't certain his coaches had planned on playing him. Arrington, who starred at Pittsburgh's North Hills High, said after practice: "It would be nice to play against the Steelers. Other than the Redskins, that's my team."

The Redskins have been cautious with Arrington, who was forced to undergo a second knee surgery during the offseason. Arrington was troubled last season by a bone bruise. After undergoing arthroscopic surgery early in the season, Arrington returned to the lineup for limited minutes in a Dec. 18 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. But after playing sparsely in the next game, he was placed on the injured reserve list before the finale. Arrington -- who underwent a second surgery in April -- made his training camp debut Aug. 15.

Warrick Holdman has been starting at outside linebacker next to middle linebacker Lemar Marshall, who filled in for Arrington last season. In his first two games last season, Arrington had 15 tackles and one sack.

Portis Will Carry His Share

After missing Friday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals with an elbow ailment, running back Clinton Portis has only one carry through two preseason games. Last season, Portis wore down while collecting a career-high 343 carries, and missed the regular season finale with a chest injury. And the Redskins intend to keep Portis fresh, especially since his backup, Ladell Betts, has proven a capable fill-in. Nonetheless, Coach Joe Gibbs intends to use Portis substantially Friday.

"We thought it was important that we start giving him some work in there," said Gibbs, noting that Pittsburgh had the top defense overall last season, "because when you get knocked around for the first time, it's a little different. And certainly you need some good contact work, some good physical work to get ready to play."

Portis agreed: "You've got to prepare for that [season opener Sept. 11]. I don't think there are too many vets who want to play in the preseason, but you've got to get yourself ready. You've got to get in shape. It's really hard to simulate football shape without playing football." . . .

The Redskins released safety Tony Dixon and linebacker Joe Tuipala. . . . Safety Matt Bowen returned to full practice for the first time since last Wednesday, when he strained a knee. . . . Tight end Robert Royal missed yesterday's practice with a shoulder strain that isn't considered serious. . . . Wide receiver Taylor Jacobs was able to jog for the first time since severely spraining his right toe in a scrimmage three weeks ago.