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Landry on fast track to start opening day

ASHBURN, Va. -- When LaRon Landry was 5 years old, he used a fake ID to play football with an older team. With that kind of fast-track mentality, it's no surprise he has accomplished what Sean Taylor and Carlos Rogers couldn't -- worked his way into the starting lineup during his rookie training camp with the Washington Redskins.

Landry's combination of speed and savvy earned the No. 6 overall draft pick from LSU the coveted spot with the first-team defense during the first week of practice. He started at strong safety in Saturday night's exhibition opener against Tennessee, and there's little doubt he will still have the job when the regular season opens Sept. 9.

"He's come in, he's learned what he's had to do," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "We've got to put him out there. We've got to have him."

Landry's rapid development bodes well for a defense that struggled to make big plays last year. Landry and free safety Taylor have the makings to form a strong, fast and fearless tandem for years to come.

Fearless? That's Landry all right. It goes back to the boxing duels he had as a youngster with his older brother, Dawan, who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

"They used to go at it every day," said Landry's father, Frank Landry. "When they were 3 or 4 years old, they used to battle over small things, a video game or sneakers or a shirt. When they were about 4 or 5, I said 'If y'all are going to fight, y'all fight with some boxing gloves."'

Then came the time for LaRon to play football, even though he was a year too young. He joined a team for ages 6-to-8, taking advantage of the fact that one of the boys who signed up decided not to play.

"There was a leftover ID," LaRon said. "And my dad was the coach, so I just took the ID."

And there's the story about the time the boys were riding home in the back of a truck on the way home from practice. An older kid dared LaRon "to jump out of the back of the truck like Superman."

So he did.

"I thought I was going to land on my feet, but I went face first. My face was all messed up," said LaRon, who then required a trip to the dentist.

After all those adventures, breaking Redskins assistant coach Gregg Williams' taboo about rookies seems easy. Just a year ago, Williams lectured reporters on his policy of forcing newcomers -- even high draft picks -- to earn their stripes because they were no longer playing college "intramurals."

Williams cited Jevon Kearse, Nate Clements, Keith Bulluck, Taylor and Rogers as examples of rookies he had coached who weren't given starting jobs right away. Taylor, Washington's No. 5 overall pick three years ago, didn't start until the third game of the regular season. Rogers, drafted No. 9 two years ago, also started in his third game -- and then only because of an injury to Walt Harris.

So what has made Williams change his mind? What's so different about Landry?

Williams said Landry got a head start playing in a pro style defense at LSU, then was able to attend all 20 of the Redskins spring practices after getting drafted. Landry also has stayed healthy -- avoiding the muscle strains and pulls that rookies often get in the days of a rigorous NFL camp -- and has shown a good early grasp of the play book. His only setback was a contract holdout that forced him to miss the first six practices of training camp, but he made up for the lost time in a hurry.

"He put himself in a position where everybody felt comfortable around him," Williams said. "His teammates said, 'Hey, Gregg, we're better when he's in here.' The acceptance of him into the group is part of the growing process of a young player. He has built trust in a lot of people."

Landry remains modest when asked about his rapid rise. In a symbolic move that confirmed the obvious, the Redskins moved him ahead of Pierson Prioleau on the depth chart this week, but he's not crowing about it.

"I still have a lot to learn," Landry said. "On this level, it's a whole different ballgame. It's a lot faster. I'm out here with 10-, 15-year vets."

Notes: First-year DL Lorenzo Alexander has earned a new nickname -- "Scarface" -- following his bloody, no-helmet tackle of scrambling Titans QB Tim Rattay during Saturday's game. Alexander lost his helmet shedding a block before pursuing Rattay, then collided with safety Reed Doughty while making the tackle. The gashes across the right side of Alexander's face and chin required six stitches. "My mom's just happy I have all my teeth," Alexander said. ... WR Brandon Lloyd, who has been sidelined by shin splints, took part in Tuesday morning's light practice. "It's definitely something that needs rest," Lloyd said of his injury. "It hurts all the time."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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