Redskins linebacker Holdman eyes return to form

He is playing for the minimum base salary in 2006, but the way Washington Redskins' linebacker Warrick Holdman sees things, he owes the franchise a maximum effort after a disappointing 2005 campaign.

The good news for Holdman is he seems to have already begun his payback year with a solid offseason performance that will allow the seven-year veteran to enter training camp as the heir apparent to LaVar Arrington at starting weakside linebacker.

"It's all up to me," said Holdman, who is in his second season with the Redskins and who re-signed in Washington this week, a month into the unrestricted free agency period. "I owe the Redskins for last year. I know they expected more of me. That wasn't me [in 2005]. I owe them a good season."

Signed as a free agent last summer, after spending 2004 with the Cleveland Browns, where he started in 14 of 16 appearances and posted 110 tackles, Holdman struggled in his first year with the Redskins. He started the first seven games of the season at the weakside linebacker spot, but notched just 23 tackles and often seemed out of synch with coordinator Gregg Williams' complex defensive scheme.

Holdman was eventually replaced by Arrington and he finished the season with just 38 tackles, playing only as a backup during Washington's stretch run effort to a wild card playoff berth. Worse than his tackle total was that Holdman made zero big plays: no sacks, fumble recoveries, forced fumbles or interceptions.

A onetime Pro Bowl-level defender during the five seasons he spent with the Chicago Bears at the outset of his NFL tenure, Holdman acknowledged that it looked like his career had bottomed out. But Williams wanted Holdman back in 2006 and, with few other offers, the veteran re-signed for the minimum salary of $710,000.

Part of Holdman's rationale was that Arrington was gone, his messy divorce from Washington finalized in early March when he essentially bought his way out of his contract, and the starting weakside linebacker spot was open again. The other part was that Holdman wanted to demonstrate to the skeptics that he was still a good player, and felt Williams' defensive design would provide him that opportunity.

"From a schematic standpoint, it allows you to do a lot of things, really," Holdman said. "The problem was, I didn't do them last year, for whatever reason. Lack of conditioning, lack of familiarity, whatever. But it will be better the second time around."

Holdman, 30, dropped 10 pounds early in the offseason and said he felt much quicker in the minicamps and organized team activities sessions. With the move of Chris Clemons to the backup spot on the strong side, the only other contender for Arrington's former starting job is rookie Rocky McIntosh, and the Redskins' second-round choice will be slowed for a while after recently undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

Washington linebackers coach Dale Lindsey, who was Holdman's first position mentor with the Bears and who watched the veteran emerge in 2001 as one of the NFL's best young defenders, with a career-best 145 tackles, has challenged him to return to that previous form. Four years after a severe knee injury curtained Holdman's ascent in 2002 and rendered him a fairly ordinary player, he seems poised to turn things around.

"He's like a man on a mission," said Redskins' strongside linebacker Marcus Washington. "You can tell that Warrick is really back on his game. He keeps talking about payback, but I think it's going to be his big comeback year."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.