Inside Slant: Holdman Gets Another Chance

Life was sweet for Warrick Holdman four years ago. He had helped spur the Bears to a stunning NFC Central title while approaching Pro Bowl status in just his third season. But in the fourth game of 2002, Holdman ripped up his right knee. He missed the rest of the season and hasn't been the same force since.

After a down year in Chicago in 2003, Holdman was a salary cap casualty. He signed with Cleveland, for whom he had a solid, if unspectacular, season before being caught up in new coach Romeo Crennel's roster overhaul. After being a free agent for nearly three months, Holdman has been reunited in Washington with Dale Lindsey, his Bears' position coach, and Greg Blache, his former coordinator.

But since Marcus Washington (Pro Bowl, 2004) and LaVar Arrington (Pro Bowl, 2001-2003) are the Redskins' outside linebackers, if the 29-year-old Holdman is going to continue as a starter, he's going to have make a major adjustment to playing in the middle after spending his entire college and pro career on the outside.

"The way a lot of teams are going now the (middle) linebacker has a lot of freedom where you just kind of run to the ball," Holdman said. "I think any guy can play any position, especially at linebacker. I really don't know what position (I'll play), but I'm trying to learn all of them."

A year ago, Antonio Pierce was in a similar situation, but the career outside linebacker handled the shift to the middle so well that after projected starter Mike Barrow was hurt in July, he stepped in and had a Pro Bowl-worthy year while leading Washington in tackles.

And with Pierce having signed with the New York Giants, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Holdman is perhaps the most qualified of a crew of candidates in the middle that also includes: undersized outside backers Lemar Marshall and Khary Campbell; the recovering 35-year-old Barrow; career special-teamer Brian Allen; raw youngsters Clifton Smith and Brandon Barnes and 26-year-old rookie Robert McCune.

"Who's going to end up being the (middle linebacker), nobody knows," Blache said. "At this time last year, nobody in the world would have expected Antonio to be the 'Mike' backer. He hadn't been a starter. We moved him inside and he got paid (millions). Part of that success story might have been the environment created by Dale."

Pierce's example encouraged Holdman that he can make a similar transition in assistant head coach Gregg Williams' aggressive defense. Lindsey said Holdman is a gifted player who will work hard and has the smarts to make the switch if asked. The question is whether Holdman can exude the same leadership that Lindsey said had Pierce at times a couple of steps ahead of the coaches in running the defense in 2004.

"The middle linebacker is kind of the quarterback," Holdman said. "He helps the D-linemen get to where they need to be and the outside linebackers are going to listen to him to know what they've got to do. You get a lot of plays and a lot of glory, but it's a lot of work and a lot of studying. I've got to learn the basics of the defense before I start saying I'm going to be the quarterback."



NOTES, QUOTES

--John Hall missed just one game during his first seven seasons. He made between 21 and 28 field goals a year and in five of those seasons, Hall's accuracy remained in the 68-78 percent range.

But 2004 was hell for Hall. He strained his right hamstring in the opener against Tampa Bay and the left one the next week against the New York Giants. He converted seven of nine field goal tries through the first five weeks, but he missed his only two attempts past 34 yards. Then Hall pulled his groin in practice on Oct. 14 and missed the next five games. Hall returned on Nov. 29 in Pittsburgh, but was just 1-for-2 in three games before tearing a quadriceps muscle on Dec. 12 against Philadelphia and sitting out the final three games. He finished with eight field goals in eight games.

In response, the 31-year-old Hall ramped up his offseason work in order to show a coaching staff that hasn't seen him stay healthy that he'll be as reliable as ever this season. And that he's the better pick than 26-year-old journeyman Jeff Chandler, who was solid during the final three games of last season.

"I think I'll be better because I've concentrated so much on strength training and being ready for this year," Hall said. "I started getting after it with a specialist in Florida as soon as the season is over. Usually I wouldn't start until the offseason program started in March except for a week or two beforehand running to get my wind ready. I was rehabbing, but I wasn't sitting on a table with ice on my leg. He was putting me through some pretty tough workouts."

As the Redskins prepared for their OTA days, Hall began kicking 10-12 field goals a day, working himself up to 25-35.

"I feel good," said Hall, who claims to have forgotten he was ever hurt. "I haven't had any setbacks. I wasn't too worried when I started kicking again. I had never really had injuries before last year. I don't worry about who's trying to take my job. There's competition everywhere. If I take care of my business, I'll be fine. I'm still the guy. We had success when I was out there. I don't have to prove anything to anybody more than I would any other year."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Warrick had his best years under Dale. ... Dale is very demanding. Warrick responds to Dale. Warrick's talent level hasn't waned at all. He has quick feet. He's got toughness. He's got football instincts. He's got a lot of moxie to his game" -- Redskins defensive line coach Greg Blache on new linebacker Warrick Holdman, whom he coached with the Bears.

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