Monday, August 3, 2009

Position Overview: Linebackers

Confidence Level: 7 out of 10
Weak side and Middle are, of course, set. I have a hard time thinking of a better MLB in football than London Fletcher, even though he doesn’t get much national recognition. And I don’t care how old he is – he never comes off the field and is showing no signs of slowing down. The fact that he wasn’t in the Pro Bowl last year just proves beyond any remaining doubt that the whole production is a total farce. Rocky McIntosh plays very well at times, and he and Fletcher combine for some very good range, but each year like clockwork his bad knees start giving out on him and he gradually makes less and less impact. Hopefully H.B. Blades, who has proven himself to be a very competent back up at all positions, will take a lot of snaps at WLB to help extend Rocky’s effectiveness in December.
We are clearly looking at Sam-backer by committee. Orakpo will be getting a lot of the snaps on run downs, and so far in camps it appears they are not easing him in at all – they expect him to play and contribute immediately. On passing downs when Orakpo will be rushing as a DE, Albert Fincher will probably be the primary fill-in. He did not get enough playing time last year for me to really have an opinion on his abilities, but the coaches have made it clear that he has their confidence and he is much more than just roster filler. That leaves Chris Wilson, and I’m still not clear where his playing time will come from. He transitioned from DE, and his role basically duplicates that of Orakpo. He apparently played some LB in Canada, so playing in space shouldn’t be totally new to him. Until camp opened I had assumed Blades would be getting a lot of playing time in the strong-side rotation, but the three guys I mentioned here are the only ones I’ve seen mentioned in the press, and at the one open practice session I attended I only ever noticed Blades lined up as the second team Mike.
Given the confidence that Orakpo has already instilled, and that Fincher had to begin with, I am no longer panicked about the strong-side. I’m reasonably confident that we will have competent play here, and given the fact that our safeties and Fletcher have great range and that I expect our D-line to be dominant, I don’t think we’ll have serious problems. Technically SLB may be the weakest point in our defense, but that mostly speaks to the excellence I expect from the rest of the unit.
Our two draftees, Cody Glenn and Robert Henson, are probably competing for one roster spot. But given that we have Blades as a primary backup and Fincher with only limited snaps, it seems likely the winner would be purely a special-teamer for his rookie year. We also brought in mediocre veteran OLB Robert Thomas in the offseason, but that was before we drafted Orakpo and I don’t think he’s going to find a spot here.

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