2008 Training Camp Breakdown: Linebackers
After a dismal season in 2006, the Redskins defense needed on-field leadership and direction. That is exactly what they received when they signed middle linebacker London Fletcher last spring. Under former assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Redskins defense ranked third and ninth in 2004 and 2005 respectively. An unexpected drop to 31st overall in the league forced the Redskins to seek change on the defensive side of the ball.
That change came in the form of Fletcher, who had played under Williams with the Buffalo Bills. Heading into his first season with the Redskins, he arrived with the reputation as being a well respected, undersized overachiever, who, since his second season, has had no less than 138 tackles in a season. As a member of the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills, Fletcher broke team records for tackles in a season and has led his teams in tackles since 1999. Last season, he did just the same as a Redskin, recording a team-high 156 tackles. He quickly became a leader and accepted the role of being the “quarterback of the defense.” His best performance came in Week 7 against the Arizona Cardinals when he led the team with 13 tackles and intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and took it 27 yards for a touchdown.
Fletcher, along with Marcus Washington and Rocky McIntosh, helped the Redskins defense return to Top 10 status in 2007, ranking 8th in the league. Both Washington and McIntosh’s seasons were slowed by injuries, with McIntosh’s being the most severe.
Washington, without question the most energetic player on the defense, had a subpar season by his standards, recording only 59 tackles and suffering a hamstring injury that took a toll on him throughout the season. He did record five sacks, however.
McIntosh, playing in his first full season as a starting outside linebacker, suffered a major knee injury against the New York Giants in a Week 15 victory over the New York Giants, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. Prior to the injury, McIntosh was progressing nicely in his second season, eclipsing the 100 tackle mark (finishing second on the team behind Fletcher), recording three sacks, forcing three fumbles and recovering one as well. His target date for a return should be in time for training camp but it remains to be seen what kind of power the knee will have once he returns to full-time practices.
This offseason, the team opted not to re-sign free agent Randall Godfrey, who was a solid veteran substitute in 2007, so it will be important for H.B Blades to make an impression this summer and prove himself as a reliable reserve when called upon. Blades, coming off a solid rookie campaign in which he made a name for himself on special teams by tallying 13 tackles and collecting 16 tackles in a reserve role on defense, has a fine football reputation to sustain. He is the son of Bennie Blades, the former hard-hitting safety for the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks and the nephew of former Seahawks wide receiver Brian Blades.
In 2007, Khary Campbell led the team in special teams tackles for the third consecutive season. He is one of the key members of the kickoff and punt coverage units and it would be detrimental to not have him on the roster for that reason.
Matt Sinclair and Danny Verdun-Wheeler return for their second seasons with the Redskins.
Sinclair saw valuable action late in the season and was most productive on special teams, recording three tackles. Prior to the season, he spent the spring in the now defunct NFL Europa playing for the Frankfurt Galaxy. He will need to continue to make a name for himself on special teams to make the roster.
Verdun-Wheeler joined the Redskins as a member of the practice squad in December after McIntosh was placed on injured reserve. He originally joined the league last season as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears.
Also vying for roster spots are Rian Wallace and undrafted rookie free agent Curtis Gatewood.
Wallace was a fifth-round draft choice by the Steelers in 2005 and in his career, has appeared in 16 games, totaling nine tackles and one interception, which he returned 30 yards for a touchdown in a 2006 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Gatewood joins the Redskins after four years at Vanderbilt where he played defensive end. He ended his career as a Commodore with 110 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and one interception. He was converted to outside linebacker at the 2008 East-West Shrine Bowl in January.
What to Watch For At Camp:
-- Will Rocky McIntosh’s late-season injury linger into the preseason and/or regular season?
-- How will London Fletcher adjust to the new radio communication in his helmet?
-- With the departure of Randall Godfrey and one season under his belt, will H.B. Blades step up to be the primary reserve linebacker?
-- Will Marcus Washington shake the injury bug and bounce back from a disappointing ‘07 campaign?
This article was released on 2008-07-15.
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