The Redskins Hit Squad

December 16, 2011


If there is one position on the team that Redskins fans should feel confident about, it has to be their linebackers. When Head Coach Mike Shanahan and Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett came to Washington in 2010 the Redskins switched to the 3-4 defensive alignment. The Redskins ran the 4-3 defense as their base package for as long as I can remember prior to the 2010 season. Eighteen NFL teams currently run the 4-3.  As many know, in both of these defensive alignments, the first number indicates the number of down lineman. The second represents the number of linebackers.

Redskins fans who might not have known much about the 3-4 or the 4-3 learned more about the two due to the Albert Haynesworth headlines in both the local and national media last season. I think we all can recall Haynesworth whining about not wanting to play in the 3-4, claiming that his contract (which was worth over $100 million) stated that he would play in a 4-3 defense, and he didn’t have to participate in the Redskins voluntary team workouts/mini-camp despite every other player taking part, and that he could eat as much cake as he wanted to in the team dining facility, etc. Maybe not that last part. But you know what I mean. Thank God he is no longer on the team.

There was obviously some friction when the Redskins made the switch to the 3-4. Last year the Redskins finished nearly at the bottom of the league in several defensive categories. The team had been built by drafting players and acquiring others through free agency for years to run the 4-3 defense. The Redskins lost some great players due to the transition. Two of those players were defensive ends Phillip Daniels (currently a free agent) and Andre Carter. Carter now plays for the New England Patriots and is one of their best defensive players. Transitioning between the different defensive schemes has its risks, costs, and benefits.

One of the best free agency acquisitions made by the Redskins (a player who was targeted primarily because the team switched to the 3-4) in recent years was the addition of nose tackle Barry Cofield. Standing at 6-4 and weighing 306 pounds, Cofield often requires offenses to double-team him. He’s good at defending passes (5 so far this year) and can get after the quarterback/running back (2.5 sacks and 23 tackles through week 14). He’s the ideal nose tackle for the Redskins 3-4 defense. Having a player like Cofield requires the offensive line to use multiple players to stop him which creates great opportunities in the trenches for the linebackers.

The Redskins drafted linebacker Brian Orakpo from the University of Texas with the 13th pick overall in 2009. Standing at 6-4 and weighing 260 pounds, Orakpo is one of the most explosive players in the NFL. As a Texas Longhorn, Orakpo was named AP Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and was honored as a unanimous first-team All-American. He was also awarded the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player), the Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end) and the Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker). As a rookie in 2009 with the Redskins, Orakpo was selected to the 2009 Pro Bowl as a reserve. Orakpo was also selected to the 2010 Pro Bowl. Since joining the Redskins, Orakpo has recorded 154 tackles (52 solo), 25 sacks, 8 passes defended, and 4 forced fumbles (1 recovered). When you look up the definition of “beast” there should be a picture of Brian Orakpo next to it. Often times the only way the offense can stop Orakpo from planting their QB is by holding, a facemask or a horse collar. I’m not making excuses. This happens constantly (don’t believe me, YouTube it). He’s young, explosive, and continues to develop as a force to be reckoned with. Orakpo is a critical piece to the Redskins defense and will hopefully have a long career with the team.

The Redskins drafted defensive end/linebacker Ryan Kerrigan with the the 16th pick overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. He stands at 6-3 and weighs 267 pounds. As a Purdue Boilermaker, Kerrigan was also a unanimous first-team All-American. Kerrigan is the Big Ten’s all-time leader in forced fumbles. In 2010, he was awarded the Bill Willis Trophy and named both the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. He was also a semifinalist for the Lombardi Trophy his senior year. Primarily a defensive end in his career, Kerrigan has made the transition to outside linebacker in the Redskins 3-4 scheme and has done a great job at the position. So far in his rookie season with the Redskins, Kerrigan has posted 56 tackles (35 solo), 6 sacks, 4 passes defended, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 interception (which he returned 9 yards for a touchdown). The addition of Kerrigan to help Orakpo with the pass rush is producing results. He has speed and power. He’s only going to develop and get better. Kerrigan coming off one side and Orakpo coming off the other is one lethal combination. Some might even say it’s a K.O. combination… zing

Perry Riley was selected by the Redskins in the 4th round (103rd pick overall) of the 2010 Draft. Riley is 6-4 and weighs 242 pounds. With the LSU Tigers, Riley was named Defensive MVP of the 2008 Chik-fil-A Bowl. He was also a collegiate finalist for the 2008 Butkus Award (top linebacker). While inactive for the majority of the 2010 season with the Redskins, Riley has been making the most of the opportunity he’s been given starting at linebacker over Rocky McIntosh. Over the past five weeks as a starter, Riley has posted an impressive 51 tackles (27 solo), 1 pass defended and 1 fumble recovery. He’s fast and moves to initiate contact on almost every play. He is another young linebacker who’s hungry and making a strong case to remain a starter on the team.

And last but certainly not least, there’s the heart and soul of the Redskins defense – London Fletcher. Fletcher entered the NFL in 1999 as an undrafted free agent for the St. Louis Rams. He made the most of his opportunity, and earned a starting job on their defense. He led the Rams defense that year and they went on to win the Super Bowl. Fletcher was named the Rams Rookie of the Year. He went on to play for the Buffalo Bills and was very successful with that defense as well. With the Bills, Fletcher would be selected to the Pro Bowl as an alternate a staggering 8 times. He finally made the Pro Bowl as a Redskin in 2010. When you look at the numbers that Fletcher has posted year after year with the teams he’s played for, you might agree that he should have been in almost every Pro Bowl that he was eligible. The man is a freak. He plays every single down like it’s going to be his last. Fletcher is 36-years-old. He outplays and outhustles guys 10 years younger than him. And he’s been in the business of annihilating people for a LONG time. He’s currently second among active players in the NFL for consecutive starts with 164. Guess who’s currently leading the NFL in tackles? You guessed it. Fletcher quietly leads the NFL with 134 tackles. Remember how I said there should be a picture of Orakpo next to the definition of “beast”? There should definitely be a picture of Fletcher next to the definition of “monster.” Fletcher is in the final year of his contract with the Redskins. If there is a free agent that the Redskins absolutely MUST sign in the upcoming offseason it is without a single doubt London Fletcher.

While there may not be a whole lot to smile about with the Redskins at 4-9 and many already looking forward to next year, it should at least be encouraging to know that this team has one of the best young linebacker corps in the NFL. Obviously there are other areas on the Redskins 3-4 defense that need to be addressed (especially in the secondary), but they have a solid group of hell raisers at linebacker that are only going to get better and more comfortable in the Redskins 3-4 defense.


Submitted by Colin

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About Ronnie Adkins

Founder: The Burgundy Warpath Feature Author: Hogs Haven

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