McIntosh Plays Like He Owns the Joint

Take a look back at the longtime and often bitter Redskins-Cowboys rivalry at Texas Stadium in Dallas. The Redskins will play their final regular season game at Texas Stadium on Sunday.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 28, 2008

The topic that matters, when Rocky McIntosh is discussed, is his knee, because nothing else happens without it. He does not make those 10 tackles he logged a week ago, when he led the Washington Redskins defense in that category in a victory over the Arizona Cardinals. He does not force a fumble by whacking Cardinals running back Edgerrin James, a ball recovered by cornerback Carlos Rogers. And he doesn't strip the ball he did the week before against New Orleans, wrestling it away from tight end Jeremy Shockey, another turnover forced in another game the Redskins won.

The left knee, the one covered by a black sleeve as he stretched before practice Friday at Redskins Park, makes it all possible. It was rebuilt late last season, after he blew it out on the turf at Giants Stadium. He missed the final two regular season games, missed Washington's appearance in the playoffs -- not the ideal way to finish his first year as a starter. He then missed time in the preseason, easing his way back, allowing his medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments -- both torn last year -- to heal.

Now, as the Redskins prepare to face unbeaten Dallas today, McIntosh misses no time. The knee appears back. Therefore, so does McIntosh. Yet as he walked off the practice field, he shook off a questioner. He gave the thumbs-up sign, mumbled a simple, "Nah, man," and walked on, leaving others to speak for him, and for his knee.

"I didn't really know this about Rocky when I got here," Coach Jim Zorn said. "But when he feels good about himself, and good about his body, he can turn it on. When he's not, it's not that he shuts it down. He's just going, 'Hmmmm.' He's thinking about how he feels. I think that about him, that when he feels good, you can see his level of play go up."

The assumption, then, would be that McIntosh feels good, because in general, his level of play has improved. McIntosh prefers to leave that as just that, an assumption. For so long, he dealt with questions about his right knee, a balky joint that was the primary reason he dropped out of the first round of the 2006 draft despite his obvious talents. Now, he is rebuilding the left one as well. In a linebacking corps that includes the undisputed defensive leader, middle backer London Fletcher, and the loquacious Marcus Washington, McIntosh says little publicly.

Those around him, though, watched how he responded to the injury last year, how he has responded to his second season as the starting weak-side linebacker. It is not uncommon for players with debilitating injuries to fall out of sight, out of mind, as they slog through tedious rehabilitation processes. McIntosh was both around and active.

"It's been a process for him," linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. "The thing that he's done is he's stayed involved the entire time and worked his way to be able to play. I remember when it first happened, they were talking about him being out for this year.

"But he was in every meeting. He did walk-through stuff. He did what he could out on the field, even in the offseason, and did a nice job of being willing to do that."

That participation, Olivadotti said, allowed McIntosh to be prepared when he returned in the preseason and more comfortable when he began the year with an eight-tackle performance against the Giants, starting a new season at the same field on which he ended last year.

"There was probably a little apprehension in his mind," Fletcher said.

But players and coaches said that once McIntosh appeared sure of his knee, he let go.

"I saw him hit the [tar] out of a few people last week," cornerback Shawn Springs said.

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