The younger players marvel at how seriously Fletcher takes his job. When they arrive at the team facility each Saturday for a 20-minute walk-through, the week’s final tuneup, most players wear sweats or whatever they had on when that morning’s alarm sounded.
But Fletcher arrives early, pulls on team-issued gear, cleats and gloves, and takes Saturday’s work as seriously as any other day’s. It’s the way he has always done it. Just because a man built himself into a three-time Pro Bowler doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how it felt to go undrafted out of tiny John Carroll University, a Division III school in Ohio.
“I’m a guy who takes that part very seriously, the prep work,” he said.
This is what brought him to the NFL, and now it’s his mastery of football’s details that is keeping him here. Haslett said he’s coached only two players with a similar understanding of the game: Rod Woodson, the Hall of Fame former defensive back, and Darren Perry, now an assistant coach for the Green Bay Packers.
Haslett walks with Fletcher sometimes, vocalizing the squiggles and lines that pass through his mind. Coaches see plays as diagrams and words like “tornado” and “fire.” Usually players begin studying their coaches’ complex plans on Wednesday evenings, four days before a game. Fletcher sees what Haslett sees; he can visualize not only the plan but how it’ll play out. Haslett said Fletcher can watch film and, 15 minutes later, walk to the field and execute what he saw.
“I love talking to London,” Haslett said, “because it’s like talking with my coaches.”
Teammates love it, too. Riley said Fletcher can see how an offense lines up — a tight end lined up here or there, a wide receiver crowding the line of scrimmage or not — and predict which play is coming.
“As far as his football IQ,” Alexander said, “nobody can even match him.”
Riley believes Fletcher is some kind of football clairvoyant. Haslett isn’t sure the veteran doesn’t have a photographic memory. Is that what led to Fletcher’s interception of Foles on Sunday in Philadelphia, knowing exactly where to be and when to be there?
No, Fletcher said with a chuckle, there’s nothing superhuman about his mind. This is experience at work, and if it seems rare or unusual, it’s because it is. Fletcher and Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber are tied with 239 consecutive appearances; only eight players have gone longer without missing an NFL game.
As the streak continues, time passes and teams — including his own — wait for Fletcher’s skills to deteriorate, he keeps outlasting his replacements. Of the six linebackers drafted since ’07, only Robinson and Riley remain with the Redskins. As for the other four, their curtains have already fallen.