State of the Redskins: Linebackers
- Updated: July 22, 2012
So far, we have taken a look at the WR’s, the Safeties, The RB’s and the CB’s. Today, we turn our focus towards the only positional unit that I am more excited about than the RG3-led QB group, the linebackers.
Outside of acquiring the second overall pick in the draft and subsequently drafting Robert Griffin III, the biggest story out of Ashburn this offseason was the re-signing of team captain, middle linebacker–and undisputed team leader–the seemingly ageless London Fletcher. Even though Fletcher is older than some of the coaches on this staff (Raheem Morris & Kyle Shanahan), his value to this franchise cannot be overstated.
While the return of Fletcher may have been the big story of the linebacker unit, he is just a part of a core group that has the firepower to be the best in the league this season.
During Joe Gibbs’ second run in DC, you could argue that the value of draft picks seemed to rival that of an Albert Haynesworth replica jersey. After burning through picks from the Jason Campbell selection and the Brandon Lloyd trade, the Redskins were left with precious few picks in 2006 (including no first rounder), so they had to make their second round pick count. When Gibbs and Co. moved up 17 spots and took relatively unheralded Miami LB Rocky McIntosh that year, Redskins fans hoped that Gregg Williams and Gibbs saw something that no one else did.
McIntosh ended up being one of the most frustrating players for Redskins fans to watch during his five year career in DC. It is not that Rocky was ever “bad”; in fact, at times he flashed the ability to be pretty special.
That was the problem.
There were many average or downright forgettable moments in Rocky’s tenure as a Redskin, but there were also special plays peppered in with enough frequency to give fans hope that he would at some point put it all together. Under Gregg Williams’ 4-3 scheme, Rocky played well enough overall, but once Shanahan implemented the switch to the 3-4, it was pretty clear that Rocky was more a liability than he was a playmaker.
Yet, the staff kept their hopes up, and that was enough to earn Rocky a one year deal to play with the Redskins in 2011. Unfortunately, as the season progressed, McIntosh’s play declined rapidly, leading to his eventual replacement.
Typically I wouldn’t list a non starter as a significant loss (which is why we haven’t talked about the gut-wrenching loss of Keyaron Fox), but after a guy started for so long, his departure is worth mentioning.
The thing that should excite Redskins fans more than anything on this unit is consistency and stability of the position. Sure, there have been additions like Jonathan Goff and Chris Wilson (who is returning to DC) but those additions are unlikely to make anything significant impact on the depth chart assuming they even make the roster.
The new kid that has the most potential to be a difference maker is Texas Rookie Keenan Robinson.
The two-time Butkus Award semi-finalist graduated in December 2011 with a degree in sports management. While at Texas, Robinson posted 317 tackles (172 solo), 5.5 sacks, 25 TFL, 14 pressures, two INTs, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and 14 passes defended. Robinson excels in the box and should grow into a formidable tackler, especially while being mentored by the NFL’s leading tackler, London Fletcher.
Though he is extremely raw, the resigning of Fletcher will give the fourth round pick plenty of time to adjust to the NFL game.
This is where things get fun.
It has been a long time since the Redskins have had an elite pair of bookend pass rushers, but it looks the wait is finally over. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan have the ability to be the best pass rushing tandem in team history – even better than Mann and Manley. Both guys have a motor that never stops, causing opposing QB’s to be under nonstop pressure, which can only lead to an increase in one of the most important statistics in the game – turnovers.
While casual fans initially questioned (or flat out hated) the Kerrigan pick, there is no question that he made an immediate impact. Outside of the game changing plays that Kerrigan made (and there are quite a few) you could also argue that taking pressure of Orakpo is as important as his individual playmaking abilities.
The thing about both these guys is that they don’t just make their unit better; they make every player around them better. In 2011, Rak and Kerrigan both benefitted from each other’s presence. In 2012, look for the surrounding units to begin to see the benefits as well.
We all know London Fletcher is the leader of this unit, and to be honest, he has been covered to death. So we aren’t going to say much more than this: losing London would have been absolutely devastating, so resigning him was more a necessity rather than just an option.
Assuming that he stays healthy, there is no reason to believe that Fletcher won’t continue to play at the incredibly high level that he has for his entire 14 year NFL career.
The guy that I am most excited about going into camp, honestly, is Perry Riley. The Louisiana State product is exactly what you want in a 3-4 ILB. He is an absolute tackling machine who doesn’t come in with a lot of hype – he just works.
Despite only starting eight games in 2011, Riley racked up 64 tackles, 35 of which were solo. If he is able to stay on that type of pace, we could very well be looking at a 120-plus tackle linebacker, alongside a guy in London Fletcher who once again led the league with 166 last season. (it is worth noting that according to coaches tape Fletcher recorded over 200 tackles)
The 2012 Washington Redskins linebackers are a perfectly balanced unit, blending veterans and young players who all possess skill sets that complement each other. This unit is among the most complete that we have seen since Mike Shanahan joined the team in 2010, and you could certainly argue that it is the most complete in the NFC East. Speed, power, football smarts…these guys have it all. For fans of the Washington Redskins, it is hard to not be excited about what these guys will do on the field in 2012.
There isn’t a whole lot of change here since week 8 of last season the four starters will remain in place as they should. The only real mix up you will see regarding the starters would be due to injury or if a guy like Robinson outplays a guy like Perry Riley.
1. Ryan Kerrigan
1. Perry Riley
1. London Fletcher
1. Brian Orakapo
1. Lorenzo Alexander
2. Rob Jackson
3. Chris Wilson
1. Keenan Robinson