Fletcher's Mentality Good Enough for Huff

By Mike Wise
Thursday, August 16, 2007

Before London Fletcher came to play in Washington, he says he watched tape. But not just any tape. Grainy NFL Films footage, circa the 1950s and '60s. There, trapped in celluloid, roamed another quick-responding middle linebacker.

"Sam Huff was something," Fletcher said, and he told the Hall of Famer so when he met him. Fletcher had left Buffalo in the offseason to help Gregg Williams fix his once-proud defense, and he figured he'd start from scratch, from the beginning.

"We had a great conversation," Fletcher said. "I let him know I had seen some tape on him from the past."

Which just about floored Huff.

See, players of his generation are used to being forgotten by today's Madden 2008 kids, who think they invented the game. Most see Huff as the kindly, plain-spoken gentleman who announces the games with Sonny Jurgensen, not the malicious New York Giant or menacing Redskin whose portrait graced the cover of Time magazine in 1959.

"I was impressed that London knows who I am because I sure as hell know who he is," Huff said. He recalled one other player paying such homage: LaVar Arrington on the day he was drafted. "They stay in tune, in touch with the game. They're both one of a kind."

We relate this story today because Huff saw something on Saturday in Nashville that he had not seen in a while. He knows it was only the first preseason game. But the sight of Fletcher's 5-foot-10, 258-pound stubby frame flying around the field -- he displayed the decisiveness that the Redskins lacked on defense last season -- made an old-timer almost believe in spending $25 million on a free agent.

As former franchise linebacking greats go, Huff said Fletcher reminds him more of Neal Olkewicz than himself. "He's already in tackling position," Huff said. "He's not big like [Chicago's Brian] Urlacher. He's not very tall. You might call him a little squatty. But he's a run-stopper, exactly what the Redskins need."

And he's something else: a leader. He is the stable, mature force in the middle that Williams has wanted. There are Sundays when Fletcher will shine on the field, but he doesn't physically have to be Lawrence Taylor or Mike Singletary to make a major difference

He can be that someone who gets in the grille of young defensive tackles such as Anthony Montgomery or Kedric Golston. Someone to make sure Sean Taylor becomes a great football player and not just a headhunter who gets beat deep because he's so concerned about making a scintillating hit. Someone Williams wanted Mike Barrow to be in 2004 before injuries curtailed his career and hoped Lemar Marshall would be: that calm veteran amid the chaos, someone who will speak up when it's needed.

"I'll say it: I'm a vocal guy," Fletcher said. "When I feel the need to talk, I'll talk. Sometimes I might be talking to get myself to where I need to be from a motivating standpoint."

Fletcher is not a perennial Pro Bowl player. But he makes the people in front of and behind him better. He knows and likes Williams, having played for him in Buffalo. More important, he understands Williams's hard-core motives -- enough to communicate them to any potential dissenters on a defense tired of being beaten down.

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