Starters: Marcus Washington, London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh
Top reserves: Lemar Marshall, Khary Campbell
Strengths: The Redskins have plenty of experience with Fletcher and Washington. The former provides the legit middle linebacker Washington has lacked the past two seasons. Fletcher has MLB instincts and understands how to get around blocks. It would help if the line provides openings for him by containing opposing offensive linemen.
Fletcher is good sideline to sideline and, at least in some seasons, has produced a fair number of turnovers (four interceptions last year). He's also a three-down ‘backer, which is important. Washington is coming off a tough season, one where he was slowed by a hip injury and, we've now learned, the mental strain of being in the NFL's drug program. It was the first step and he was eventually found to be clean, but it required a lot of time and energy to go through the program.
With a clear head, Washington should be able to be more productive. He'll also be a rush end at times, or blitz, to help provide a bigger rush.
McIntosh is ultra-physical and does an excellent job of beating blockers to the point of attack, forcing runners to cut back sooner than desired. In his two starts last year, McIntosh improved at dropping into coverage. He has skills. The depth is fine, with Marshall an experienced backup should McIntosh not be ready.
Weaknesses: The unit needs the line to really help them out. McIntosh remains an unproven commodity because of his inexperience. Is Washington explosive enough to provide more rush as an end or even as a blitzer? In the past, he often got close but could not get the QB down. And Fletcher is 32. He's considered adequate in coverage and can get swallowed up by blockers.
Outlook: Pretty good. Despite the weaknesses, this should be a good unit. We like Fletcher's leadership and coach-on-the-field demeanor. Washington's passion serves the defense well and he's fully recovered so injuries won't be a problem. We're not worried about McIntosh because of Marshall's presence. He provides good insurance.
Better than 2006?: Yes. They're improved in the middle with Fletcher instead of Marshall; a healthy Washington is better than a hurt one and McIntosh should be a step up – or at least be equal to – Warrick Holdman, who rarely made any big plays.
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