The Redskins revamped their linebacking corps yet again by adding two new big name starters. Sound familiar? In 2002, the Redskins signed Jessie Armstead and Jeremiah Trotter to replace Shawn Barber and Kevin Mitchell as starters. Armstead was signed as an UFA after spending the first 9 seasons of his career as a New York Giant. Trotter was in a dispute with Philadelphia's front office, was released, and signed a big contract with the Redskins.
To the here and now; Armstead and Trotter were released in February and June, respectively. Armstead signed with the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers and Trotter mended his rift with Philadelphia and signed a 1 year deal with the Eagles last week. After failing to sign Brandon Short, Greg Favors, and Warrick Holdman, the projected starters to replace the duo will be Marcus Washington and Mike Barrow, who signed large, multi-million dollar deals with the team this offseason. A total of 5 new linebackers will be in Ashburn for the fans to evaluate.
Many claim that the defensive line is the lone Achilles heel of the 2004 Washington Redskins mainly because of the lack of a pass rush from the defensive ends. But Assistant Head Coach - Defense Gregg Williams plans to employ a scheme which will allow the linebackers to blitz on many downs to provide the pass rush that the line cannot. Going into 2004, linebackers coach Dale Lindsey will have a lot of talent and depth to work with...
LB LaVar Arrington
Weight: 247 lbs
In December, Arrington signed an 8-year, $68 million contract extension with the Redskins but he claims that the team shortchanged him of $6.5 million that was to be a part of his roster bonus. The issue will be heard in an arbitration hearing in early August. The lone starter returning from the Spurrier Era, LaVar is coming off of his third straight Pro Bowl season in which he recorded 116 tackles, 6 sacks, and 7 forced fumbles (career high). LaVar will move to weakside linebacker in 2004, giving him more space to roam and make plays. Despite the distractions this offseason, LaVar loves the new atmosphere of stability and direction brought upon by the new coaching staff and now seems more focused and disciplined than in any of his 4 previous seasons in the league.
LB Mike Barrow
Barrow began his 11 year NFL career with the Houston Oilers in 1993 after being drafted in the 2nd round out of Miami. Under the tutelage of Gregg Williams, the team's special teams coach in 1993 and linebackers coach from 1994-1996, he totaled 330 tackles. Barrow left Houston to join the Panthers in 1997. He spent 1998 and 1999 in Carolina but left during free agency in 2000. Barrow signed with the New York Giants that offseason, started the season at middle linebacker, and led the team to its first Super Bowl in 10 years. In his final three seasons in New York Barrow led the team in tackles and led the NFC in tackles in 2003. In March, Barrow refused to restructure his contract and was released by the Giants. About a month later, even after the Redskins earlier said that Barrow was too expensive, was signed to a six year deal. But Barrow's contract is backloaded, just like Brunell's, and it can basically be considered a two- or three-year deal.
At 34, Barrow brings a great deal of presence, veteran leadership to a group of very young linebackers, and the work ethic of a 25 year old that has given him the energy to thrive throughout his 11 seasons in the league. Barrow will come to training camp with a refreshed attitude now that he has been reunited with Gregg Williams and has experienced another change of scenery. Look for Barrow to continue his aggressive and consistent play in 2004.
LB Marcus Washington
Weight: 247 lbs
Washington quickly became the linebacker the Indianapolis Colts were hoping he would become when they drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2000 NFL Draft. But after coughing up a 7 year, $98 million deal with an NFL record $34.5 million signing bonus for Peyton Manning, the Colts made no key additions this offseason. The Colts desperately wanted to keep Washington but with little money to work with, the Skins were able to sign him away from Indy with a 6 year, $24 million deal in March. Washington, who gathered 81 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, with four passes defended in 2003, played a vital role in the Colts run to the AFC Championship.
LB Kevin Mitchell
Weight: 258 lbs
Kevin Mitchell was heading into free agency in 2004 not knowing what kind of interest would be generated. It didn't matter. On March 4th (the second day of free agency) he re-signed with the team for the second straight offseason and also to his third one-year contract since joining the team in 2000. When he was an unrestricted free agent in 2003, he explored the possibility of joining the Detroit Lions. He even met with the team but chose to stay in the area because his wife who had just given birth to their first child. When Jeremiah Trotter was given permission to seek a trade, the idea of Mitchell starting at middle linebacker for the Redskins in 2004 was becoming more and more realistic. But throughout free agency the team was searching for a linebacker to replace Trotter. In April, the team signed Mike Barrow to start at middle linebacker. The chances of the 10 year veteran finally becoming a consistent starter in this league are quickly disintegrating. But one thing is certain. Mitchell will still be able to make his mark on special teams as he has his whole career and provide quality depth.
LB Antonio Pierce
Weight: 240 lbs
Although he started 8 games in his rookie season in 2001, Pierce has seen limited time at linebacker the last two seasons but has been very active on special teams. He was suspended for the final game in 2003 against Philadelphia but the coaching staff feels that his problems have been ironed out. A restricted free agent this offseason, Pierce was reportedly very close to signing a deal with the Minnesota Vikings but decided to return to the Redskins by signing the minimum tender offer. It's not expected that Pierce will see much playing time in 2004, either, but special teams play is what will keep him on the roster.
LB Lemar Marshall
Weight: 227 lbs
A former safety, Lemar sees little time at linebacker but since joining the Redskins before week 17 in 2001, he has been a mainstay at special teams and has appeared in 28 games for the Burgundy and Gold. In 2003, Lemar recorded his first sack of his career, a half sack against the New York Giants Jesse Palmer. Marshall, one of only two exclusive rights free agents for the Redskins this offseason, re-signed with the team in mid-March and switched jersey numbers from 52 (now belonging to Cory Raymer, who wore it from 1995-2001) to 98 (the jersey number that previously belonged to Jessie Armstead from 2002-2003).
LB Clifton Smith
Weight: 255 lbs
Clifton Smith has the size, strength, and skill to become the Redskins star middle linebacker of the future. He was originally slated to be a high round draft pick in 2003 but went undrafted and chose to sign with the Redskins after tallying 137 tackles in his senior season at Syracuse. Smith was on the team's practice squad for 13 games last season and saw limited action in the season finale against Philadelphia. In 2003, Smith wore #51 but has now taken over the departed Jeremiah Trotter's #54. Training camp could be a stepping stone for Smith as he looks to become a regular on the active roster and garner more playing time.
Chris Clemons, 6'3", 234 lbs, 10/30/81- In 2003, Clemons joined the Redskins as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia, along with his brother Nic. In college, Chris suffered a shoulder injury that cost him several games and suffered another shoulder injury during training camp with the Redskins. The team placed him on injured reserve and Chris missed the whole 2003 season. Going into training camp, Clemons hopes to have a healthy 2004 and make the roster in any way, shape, or form. The possibility of making the same NFL roster as his brother is an exciting though but whether that will happen remains to be seen.
Billy Strother, 6'0", 230, 1-8-1982 - Strother totaled 100 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries in his senior season at New Mexico in 2003 which was impressive enough to be signed by the Redskins after going undrafted. Strother is the only rookie linebacker on the roster which adds to the difficulty that he faces to make the regular season squad. To make the roster, come September 12th, he needs to beat out 10 veterans and quickly make the transition from college to pro.
Khary Campbell, 6'3, 250, 4-4-1979 - Campbell was invited to this March's mini camp on a tryout basis without a contract but was later signed as insurance for a probable exit involving Antonio Pierce to Minnesota which never developed. Campbell has only 9 career tackles in his two seasons in the league. Originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in April of 2002, Campbell was released at the end of the preseason and joined the New York Jets for the next two seasons. If Campbell is released by the Skins, he most likely will find work elsewhere as a reserve and on special teams.
Devin Lemons, 6'2, 232, 3-20-1979 - Lemons entered the league in 2001 as an undrafted free agent signed by the Chicago Bears and spent the entire season on the practice squad. He was released by the Bears after the team's 2002 preseason and later signed with the Miami Dolphins the next January. The Dolphins released him before the 2003 season so Lemons has not played in any regular season games. Like Campbell, Lemons was brought into the March mini camp on a tryout basis and his showing was solid enough for him to be signed on the roster. Not having played any games in the league is a big negative towards Lemons but if he is impressive enough on special teams, he will be on the Redskins 2004 roster.