Strengths: Plenty of athleticism, especially at outside linebacker with LaVar Arrington and Marcus Washington. Both have the ability to pressure the passer. Both will likely spend time at end in pass-rush situations. Washington is excellent at backside pursuit, as is Arrington. The latter will attempt to make yet another Pro Bowl appearance and, in this defense, he'll be given a chance to post big numbers. Actually, both of them will. Washington could be one of the prized free agent pickups if he responds well in this system. Middle linebacker Micheal Barrow provides steady play in the middle. He won't make lots of flashy plays, but he will make lots of little ones. And that's all the coaches want. Coordinator Gregg Williams loves his brains.
Weakness: Both Arrington and Washington have a hard time shedding blockers. Arrington has never handled tight ends or fullbacks well and usually makes his plays when he can use his speed. Also, if both play too much end, will that sap their strength? Will battling tackles 10-15 times a game cause them to wear down late in the season? Arrington has made some well-publicized coverage mistakes, but we think this coaching staff will cause those to decrease, thereby making him a dangerous defender. Barrow is getting older (entering his 12th year). How much does he have left?
Keep your eye on: two players. Clifton Smith, someone we loved last year duing training camp. He's a hard-worker who makes lots of tackles and could be a good special teams player someday -- if he makes the roster (with Kevin Mitchell ahead of him, that won't be easy). And Chris Clemons, who got hurt last summer, is very athletic and could have a strong camp. One, or both, might get cut because of special team contributors such as Antonio Pierce, Lemar Marshall and Kevin Mitchell. We know Joe Gibbs likes experience on special teams. But Smith and Clemons will push this group harder.
Who we like: Mitchell. Not because he's a great player, but because he'll do what's asked of him. That's why he's entering his 11th year. Usually players who last that long spend the bulk of their time as starters. Not Mitchell. He's lasted because he knows what he does well: back up and contribute on special teams.
Positional Analysis: Linebackers
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