The Redskins linebacker group has had a tough couple of seasons after transitioning to the 3-4 defense. The 3-4 is a defense that works much better with a lead. However, with the lackluster performance the offense has displayed the defense has been tasked with keeping the team in games rather than attacking at will like it is designed to do. Most of the linebacker group was either a part of the transition from the 4-3 at a different position or came from a team where they played defensive line. The staff seems to have a knack for finding players that can make the transition well though, with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo being super examples. In 2011, the team had good starting players but, depth was an issue, mainly because of inexperience. In 2012 however, the linebacker camp battles we will witness will be epic. If the defensive line and secondary can play better this season, the Redskins linebackers could rise to be the top threat in the NFC East. Let’s get to know a little about this group of players.
Alexander is definitely a special player. He is a very nice guy and will talk to just about anyone. However, get him on a football field and watch out because he is a wrecking crew. When he joined the Redskins in 2006, Alexander gained the nickname, “One Man Gang”, due to the versatility of football positions he can play; offensive guard, tight end, linebacker, fullback, defensive tackle, defensive end, and special teams. Back in October 2010, he delivered a hit on Philadelphia Eagles kickoff returner Jorrick Calvin in the Redskins’ 17-12 win that prompted head coach Mike Shanahan to call it “one of the best hits I’ve been around since I’ve been in the NFL.”
Here’s that hit in week 4
And here is the hit everyone else remembers in week 10
Later in the season, Shanahan called Alexander the best special teams player he’d been around. About halfway through the 2010 season Alexander was made the permanent special teams captain. Alexander continued to be captain of special teams throughout the 2011 NFL season. He was chosen as an alternate for the Pro Bowl in January 2012. This coming season Alexander will transition from an outside linebacker to inside linebacker. Make no doubt about it, he may back up at ILB, but he will be in on plays and he is a very big part of this team.
Fletcher is the Cal Ripken of football. He is the iron man. He has a super attitude, is a coach on the field, he never misses a game and seldom a play. You couldn’t ask for a better role model. I have no idea how he has played so many years at linebacker and stayed healthy, but he just keeps on going. Fletcher feels like he has 2, possibly three years left to play and I don’t think many will doubt that, but I do think the number of plays he is on the field will go down some. With guys like Keenan Robinson, Perry Riley, Lorenzo Alexander, and Jonathan Goff in the mix, he can take plays off and get those three years in. Also, with a better defensive line in front of him, look for him to have an even better year in 2012.
Goff was doing pretty well as a starter for the Giants until he tore his ACL, causing him to miss the 2011 season. He has been great against the run in the Giants 4-3 system and he’s a bright guy. As long he’s healthy and can learn a new system quickly he will make a solid backup in the middle. If Perry Riley were to struggle with coverage, Goff possibly could see a good bit of action.
Donnell (D.J.) Holt:
Holt played ILB at Cal beside Mychal Kendricks which had to make getting any tackles tough. He was not invited to the NFL combine and was signed by the Redskins as a free agent. The scouts haven’t been high on Holt, but I believe he has a great deal to offer. He played in 50 of 51 games, including 50 straight games. You hear that London? Holt racked up 168 tackles the past two seasons starting at Cal, 14 for a loss. He ended up his career at Cal with 218 tackles. He also played special teams at Cal, which could help his chances of making the team.
The Redskins 2008 7th round draft pick out of Kansas State. Jackson is one of the most under rated players on the team. I won’t say he’s great at pass coverage, I haven’t been able to see enough to know yet, but he makes the most of his opportunities. He is an awesome pass rusher, has great moves and plays with a purpose. When Orakpo had injury issues last year, he came in and played exciting football. Coming in as a DE and moving to OLB after the change to the 3-4 defense is not easy for anyone. He’s done a great job and solidifies his spot by his great special teams play. He’s one of those guys I get pumped up for when I see him come into games. There are several teams where Jackson could start as a LB in the NFL. Jackson was a TE/DE at Fort Scott Community College, Fort Scott, Kansas, before going to K State.
Kehl has played for the Giants and Rams, mostly as a backup. He was drafted in 2008 in the 4th round by the Giants and will move to ILB for Redskins. After his first year with the Giants he had a really good production percentage, which translates into making plays. The Giants compute a percentage of how many tackles and sacks a player makes, divided by the snaps played in the game. Kehl had 33 percent his first year. That was one of the best among the defensive players. Justin Tuck had 34 percent. He hasn’t been known as a physical, bash-’em, smash-’em linebacker. He is more of a finesse player with speed, quickness, and agility, but he is working on improving that. In the tough NFC East, he’s learned that linebackers have to be able to run over blockers rather than around them to be successful.
Ryan was a Defensive End at Purdue and the Redskins switched him to outside linebacker. That’s hard to believe after watching him play. From the first game of the season when we saw him deflect an Eli Manning pass against the Giants, catch it and run it into the end zone for a touchdown, it was clear that he was special. Look for a major improvement in his play in year two as he is no longer thinking about what he is supposed to do, but doing everything more naturally.
Lewis could be the most surprising guy in the LB corp. I’ve seen his 40 times ranging from 4.56. to 4.72, but on the field in pads, he has wheels; he can chase down quarterbacks, he can tackle through blockers and shake blockers. He will be moving from DE to OLB for the Redskins, but this is definitely a guy to keep an eye on. With the right mentoring he could become a very good player. He wasn’t invited to the combine, wasn’t drafted, but he has raw athletic ability. He might start out on the practice squad, but I like his chances a great deal.
I know Bill Belichick is the king of finding diamonds in the rough, but his good friend Mike Shanahan really seems to blazing his own trail. Brian McNally might just be another one of those players. Granted, New Hampshire isn’t exactly known as a football haven, but McNally just tore up during his time there. He holds the single season sack record at UNH with 13.5 (finished his time there with 27.5 total), he was the 2011 Student Athlete of The Year, CAA All-Conference First Team; and that is just a small sample of his accomplishments. He’s one of those guys that have it all together; smart, tough, willing to work hard and he’s humble. He’s also another DE turned OLB. He’s got his work cut out for him, but he also will make decisions very difficult for the Redskins staff come cut down time.
Another player who switched from DE to LB for the Redskins. Orakpo came in and dominated his first year as most expected, but in his second year seemed to struggle in NFC East games. He’s very athletic, but he has to get some moves to get past NFL level talent to continue to improve. With Kerrigan in his second year, teams will have to give him more respect, which should lighten the load on Orakpo. Look for him to play even better than he did in his rookie season.
This season will be make or break for Riley. I love this guy, love that he put serious effort into camp, kept his head up even though he didn’t do well, put extra effort into special teams and when he finally impressed coaches enough in practice and was given an opportunity to start, he took full advantage. Remember the first game he started for Rocky McIntosh? What a performance! He was a beast (9 tackles, 4 for a loss). This year though, McIntosh is gone and newcomer Keenan Robinson will try to take a spot from Riley.
Robinson will make an impact on the Redskins right away. He may not start immediately, but he will play for both Riley and Fletcher at times and will definitely make an impact on special teams. The Redskins 4th round pick out of Texas is the most exciting rookie on the defensive side of the ball. The fact that he will have had a full offseason to learn will help him a great deal. He has the makings of a star in the NFC East if he works hard, keeps a good attitude and takes advantage of the opportunities that will surely come his way.
White got my attention last pre-season in the final game against Tampa Bay. It was a critical time for anyone trying to make the roster and he took advantage of his opportunity. He finished with a sack, five tackles, and a fumble recovery that he returned 37 yards to the 2 yard line to setup a Redskins touchdown. He only had two chances during the regular season on special teams, but he definitely can play at a high level. With Lorenzo Alexander moving to ILB, he might have a chance to play more this season, but linebacker is going be a tough place to make the team this year. I like the guy and I like his chances.
Wilson is currently on his second stint with the Redskins. He was originally with the Redskins from 2007-10. He started with the Redskins at DE, but moved to OLB when the team transitioned to the 3-4 defense. He spent the offseason and pre-season last year with the Eagles and was a member of the BC lions of the CFL for two seasons. He was part of the Lions Grey Cup championship team playing defensive line. He did well for the Redskins his first time around playing in all 16 games in 2010. He is also a player who can play special teams. Now, I mentioned earlier that if the defensive line and secondary improve over last year this group of linebackers have the potential to be the best in the NFC East. So, who makes the team? Last year the Redskins kept 9 linebackers. If they stay the course this year, 5 players in this list won’t be on the team by the time week one of the regular season arrives. Make no doubt about it though, all these guys have the tools to make this team. Here are the players fighting for spots:
Donnell (D.J.) Holt
Here’s one way I could see this shaking out.
I could see the team try to hide Lewis and Holt on the practice squad. I also hope they can find a spot for Kehl. Of course special teams may have an influence in these decisions as well. As you can see, the more depth the team builds, the tougher the decisions are to make. As I said, all of these guys have what it takes to make this team. This will make the camp battles for these players much more intense than we have seen the past few seasons. One thing is certain; the future looks very bright for the Washington Redskins.
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Tags: Brian McNally, Brian Orakpo, Bryan Kehl, Chris Wilson, D.J. Holt, Jonathan Goff, Keenan Robinson, london fletcher, Lorenzo Alexander, Markus White, Monte Lewis, National Football League, NFL, Perry Riley, Redskins, Rob Jackson, Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins