By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Hoping to elude reporters the other day at Redskins Park, weak-side linebacker Rocky McIntosh devised a plan. As the team walked off the field after practice, McIntosh and linebacker Khary Campbell briefly disappeared behind a tent in which trainers tend to injured players.
McIntosh and Campbell switched jerseys (McIntosh wears No. 52 and Campbell has No. 50), and McIntosh reemerged on the right side of the tent and attempted to blend in with the crowd headed toward the locker room. Although some of McIntosh's pursuers were momentarily duped, Zack Bolno, the Redskins' executive director of communications, and reporters who cover the team daily were not fooled. Perhaps glasses and a fake nose and mustache would have worked better.
"I was Khary for a little minute but you guys got me," said McIntosh, his face creased by a wide grin. "I've got to find something else for you."
McIntosh has reason to be in a playful mood these days. He returned to the lineup last week for the first time since a serious knee injury cut short his 2007 season, starting in the Redskins' 13-10 preseason victory over the New York Jets on Saturday at Giants Stadium.
Being back in the stadium in which he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee caused some uncomfortable moments on the field during pregame warmups. Once the game began, it was like old times for McIntosh, the Redskins said, and he could take another big step Saturday against the Carolina Panthers.
Redskins starters are expected to play most of the first half at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, as Coach Jim Zorn plans to use the game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. McIntosh, who is from Gaffney, S.C., about 50 miles from Charlotte, proved he was ready while joining the first-team defense for a portion of the Jets' two first-quarter possessions.
McIntosh is on track to be part of the opening lineup when Washington and the New York Giants kick off the NFL's regular season Sept. 4 at Giants Stadium, and the Redskins said that is good news for them.
"He was glad to be out there [against the Jets] and we were happy to have him back," strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington said. "He was flyin' around like he was having a good time doing it, flyin' to the ball and having fun, and that's the Rocky we all know."
Against the Jets, McIntosh, entering his third NFL season, and fourth-year cornerback Carlos Rogers, who also was making his preseason debut after having reconstructive knee surgery last season, were finally back in the mix against an opponent. The Redskins have exercised caution with the talented young players, limiting their exposure in contact drills since the beginning of training camp.
McIntosh and Rogers impressed at times early in camp when the first-team offense and first-team defense competed in 11-on-11 drills, but, on the recommendation of Washington's medical staff, Zorn and Vinny Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations, took a wait-and-see approach. And even when Cerrato and Zorn removed the handcuffs last week, McIntosh and Rogers were closely monitored in their short stints against the Jets.
On Dec. 16, McIntosh tore the ligaments in his left knee in a 22-10 victory over the Giants at Giants Stadium. He had surgery shortly after the swelling subsided and then began the long recovery process.
McIntosh did not know how he would react to his return to the field on which the injury occurred. But he figured he would experience a range of emotions "just being back there," he said. "When I was out there in warmups, I thought about it a little, but you can't hold on to nothing like that. Just move on. Once it was game time there was no worrying about your leg.
"You got to go out there and play defense. All the other guys are playing, so you got to play, too. Just going out there and just being out there, you've got to play full speed. That's what I'm going to go out there and do no matter how I feel or what point I am [at in his recovery]. As soon as you step in between those white lines it's either hit or be hit. I don't want to be hit."
With warmups completed and the jitters gone, McIntosh lined up in his familiar spot alongside Washington and middle linebacker London Fletcher. Rogers replaced McIntosh, who was credited with only one tackle but was involved in several plays, when the Redskins used their nickel package on the Jets' first possession.
"He stepped right up there and took people on," Zorn said of McIntosh. "I don't think he shied away from anything. I think it'll take two to three games to get the instinct back. But when the play comes right at him, that's easy to read. He's right on top of it and he's enjoying it."
McIntosh "got in a lot more action" than Rogers did, Rogers said. He "got in on some tackles, so he had a big test for his knee."
In their offseason rehab, McIntosh, who had a history of right knee problems while at the University of Miami, was considered to be further along than Rogers, who tore his right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in a 52-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Oct. 28. McIntosh and Rogers pushed each other through grueling exercises to strengthen their knees.
"Unfortunately, we had those knee injuries," McIntosh said. "Just us having the same injury, we were out there trying to work hard, [competing] against each other. Everybody heals differently. He still has a couple of months on me. That's a lot of rehab time, a lot of healing."
Despite sitting out the last two games in 2007 because of his damaged knee, McIntosh finished second on the team in tackles with 105, including 70 unassisted, according to Washington's charts (tackles are not an official NFL statistic). Frustrated about missing the end of the regular season and the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, McIntosh was "just more motivated to get back to where I am now."
So motivated, in fact, that McIntosh tried to eliminate anything that would distract him from returning as quickly as possible. Speaking with reporters was high on his list of distracting activities, McIntosh said in a rare interview during camp.
After the Redskins' final practice before facing the Jets, Bolno unsuccessfully tried to arrange a group interview with McIntosh, who fended off Bolno from the field to the weight room as Bolno pleaded with him to meet with reporters. Bolno estimated he spoke with McIntosh numerous times before McIntosh agreed to be interviewed earlier this week. The jersey switcheroo with Campbell was all McIntosh's idea.
"Just going with the flow, man," McIntosh said of his upbeat approach. "Just coming out here and practicing and getting to run around and things like that. Just trying to be like the rest of these guys and come out here and play."
At the time of his injury, McIntosh had made major strides in his first season as a starter. Players coming off reconstructive knee surgery sometimes need a full season -- or more -- to revert to form physically. Just in case, McIntosh has focused on becoming a smarter player.
"I'm definitely critical of myself," he said. "Everything can be better, reads and my mental game. I just want to go out there and be perfect."
In addition to McIntosh's season-ending knee injury, Marcus Washington was slowed throughout 2007 because of recurring hamstring problems and sat out four games. With McIntosh back and Washington's hamstrings cooperating, the Redskins' linebackers could be among the NFC's strongest units, defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.
"Could be, but nobody is going to give it to us," Washington said. "We're going to have to work for it. It's going to start in practice and, of course, it carries over into the game. It's definitely going to take some work, but having Rocky back helps."