Here's the original linebacker projection from last week:
Starting outside linebackers: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan
Starting inside linebackers: London Fletcher, Perry Riley
Backup OLBs: Rob Jackson, Markus White
Backup ILB: Lorenzo Alexander, Horatio Blades
Notable cut: Robert Henson
Notable cut: Robert Henson
Notable unretained FA: Chris Wilson
Let's start on the inside. London Fletcher is obviously going to provide solid play at one spot, but the other is pretty up in the air, especially with the late and surprising re-signing of Rocky McIntosh. His arrival is clearly a sign of lack of confidence that Perry Riley is ready to take over the job he was drafted for. However, Rocky showed last year that he is just not cut out for this defense. If Riley's problem (as reported) is that he too often finds himself in the wrong gap on running plays, then he is being replaced by a guy who managed to pick the wrong gap like it was his job.
If Rocky was brought back primarily for his special teams ability, then that's fine. If he starts, we have a problem. There's already a guy on the roster who lacks the run game problems of Rocky and (apparently) Riley - Horatio (formerly H.B.) Blades. He has never been entrusted with more than spot duty, so clearly the coaches don't have high hopes for him. But every time he comes in he repeatedly impresses me with his remarkable run instincts. Even if he's not a viable long term starter, he still seems better positioned to keep the job warm until Riley's ready.
One other factor to keep in mind - in a long term sense the Redskins are looking for two starters, not just one, because London Fletcher's contract is up after the year and as great as he has been it's probably not wise to give a new deal to a guy who will be 37 in 2012. Maybe Blades isn't an option, but isn't there something to be said for finding that out now to know what the options are next offseason?
The outside spots are simpler. We know what Orakpo is - a very good pass rusher who needs more help from the defensive line to convert many of those pressures into sacks. We also need to watch to see if his run defense improves - he was frankly dominated by tight ends in the running game last year. Hopefully, it's just a matter of refining technique as he continues to adapt to this defense.
Kerrigan is going to be a good player, but given that he is learning a new position and missed out on any offseason activities, would it be all that shocking if he if he doesn't hold the starting job right off the bat? Rob Jackson put in a strong showing near the end of 2010 and I think he will be a quality backup. So if Kerrigan needs more refinement, would there be any harm in giving Jackson (or, hypothetically, a surprisingly re-signed Chris Wilson) the first few starts? Every indication is that Kerrigan is a fast learner, and the coaches will probably want to throw him right in there. But there is a small but real possibility that Kerrigan will have to work his way into the job more gradually, and I wouldn't have a problem with it.
Where does all this leave Lorenzo Alexander? He had been moved to the inside, but with Rocky back in house it looks like it will be hard to crack there. We know he's not going anywhere; the coaches love his versatility and special teams play (as do I). He's probably more likely to see the field as a backup at OLB once again. So we have here a guy who, in the event of injuries, can fill in at ILB, OLB, and probably defensive end if needed, and perform adequately at all of them. He will excel in none of those positions - but it is pretty remarkable to have the fifth option at three different positions be able to reliably give you a professional level of competence.