Saturday, August 6, 2011

Redskins position preview: Linebackers

Continuing the position-by-position look at the depth chart. We talked about the defensive line on Wednesday. As expected, there have been various personnel moves since my original 53 man roster projection last week; these were anticipated as I simply got tired of waiting for roster moves to sort themselves out in this weird abbreviated offseason. I mean, we're a few days away from a preseason game. Time to work.

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 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.


  1. I really like your perspective on this blog. It is unfortunate as a redskin fan that all skin related articles are biased and everybody's opinion is the same. The hard thing is to realize that it will be another year until we are truly contenders. Granted there is a possibility this year but that is very optemstic (excuse my spelling). Use to have microsoft spell checks at my expense.

    Corey M.

  2. Rocky had 150 tackles...

  3. Rocky didn't look any better during the first half of the first preseason game than he did last season - the occasional show of competency (a diving pass deflection) sprinkled in with a recurring inability to diagnose counters and playaction and a habit of being in the wrong gap on run plays.

    If the coaches are seeing the same thing we've been seeing for the last season, I doubt we'll see Rocky starting on opening day. Perhaps the best thing might be to release him outright; most backup LBs have some value in other roles, but Rocky doesn't play special teams and plays poorly in the role he was signed to fill. One of the last real holdover 4-3 miscasts, in my opinion.