The crowd noise increased early in the second quarter to provide a clue that linebacker LaVar Arrington was in the game. The cheers reached a zenith after Arrington lined up at right defensive end on a passing play against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Arrington didn't do anything spectacular on the play, an incompletion that gave Washington the ball back.

But the 73,987 fans, some of whom wore Arrington's replica No. 56 jersey, showed excitement at Arrington's first game since last year.

"These fans are awesome," Arrington said in a jubilant locker room after a 17-10 victory for the team's first win in preseason. "That's the thing I can't seem to get over, just how supportive they are. It makes things so much better. They made it [happen]. It wasn't me. I feed off of them and was able to produce."

Last season, Arrington missed 12 games because of a right knee injury, which eventually required a second surgery during the offseason. Since Arrington came back too soon last season, the Redskins have been very careful easing him back.

Nonetheless, Arrington showed flashes of what he can do while playing substantially in Washington's 17-10 victory last night.

Arrington was conspicuous playing with reserves such as defensive lineman Aki Jones. But Arrington showed exuberance about his return to the field, often slapping teammates five and goading the crowd to get loud when second- and third-stringers were in the game. Arrington, who collected two tackles on his first six plays, didn't leave the game until Pittsburgh's second-to-last possession.

"The whole week in practice LaVar has been running with the [reserves], and he hasn't one time complained," said reserve linebacker Chris Clemons. "He's been motivated all week. He's been saying how much he can't wait to get back."

Arrington's return came two days after he settled a contract dispute with the Redskins, and against his favorite team growing up. The Pittsburgh native starred at North Hills High, where he was considered one of the best prep players to come out of Pennsylvania.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Arrington came close to an interception but let the ball fall through his hands. "I'm rusty," Arrington before quickly adding, "No excuses. I might have dropped that if I had been playing.

"I almost had one against my home town. And I let it get away. But at least I know there's a lot I can get better at."

In the second quarter, Arrington lined up strictly at defense end on a few third-down passing plays. Arrington didn't play weak-side linebacker until early in the third quarter during Pittsburgh's first offensive drive of the half.

Before the game, Gregg Williams -- assistant head coach of defense -- estimated Arrington would get up to 30 snaps. And Arrington's playing time was the most since he last played a full game on Sept. 19.

Arrington didn't get in last night's game until about three minutes into the second quarter. Arrington lined up on the far right of Washington's defensive line. He crouched in a three-point stance across from 6-foot-5, 308-pound tackle Marvel Smith. On third and six from the Pittsburgh 26-yard line, Arrington tried to bull past Smith. Arrington leaped as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass toward the left. And spectators cheered when the ball was bobbled for an incompletion.

Arrington wasn't in at the start of Pittsburgh's next offensive possession. But three plays later, on third and nine from the Pittsburgh 11-yard line, Arrington was back in the three-point stance. The play was almost identical, with an incomplete pass on the left side, although this time Smith tossed Arrington aside.

Arrington's first snap as a linebacker came with about seven minutes left in the third quarter. Arrington sprinted up the middle on a five-yard carry by Verron Haynes.

With less than four minutes left in the third quarter, the Redskins were up, 17-10, when the crowd noise died down. Arrington, playing linebacker, pumped his fist and jumped, urging fans to make noise. Spectators responded on first and 10 from the Pittsburgh 8-yard line.

And although receiver Nate Washington made a seven-yard reception, spectators cheered because Arrington made his first tackle of the preseason to prevent more yards.

On the next play, second and three from the Pittsburgh 15-yard-line, Arrington didn't need any gratuitous cheers. Arrington halted Haynes near the line of scrimmage, pushing him back, for no gain as spectators went into a tizzy.

After Pittsburgh's series ended, Arrington sprinted off the field. He was greeted by linebacker Marcus Washington. The two linebackers leaped high for a chest bump that must have felt good to the rejuvenated Arrington.

"It was great to have him out there," Washington said. "When he's out there the enthusiasm spreads."

Washington linebacker LaVar Arrington, right, eludes Pittsburgh tackle Trai Essex in the third quarter at FedEx Field.