By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Watching others play when the Washington Redskins are on defense has been the most difficult part for strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington. He is supposed to be on the field with his teammates, Washington often tells himself, not on the sideline because of a bothersome left hamstring injury.
Washington, however, has become familiar with that vantage point the last two seasons, his recurring hamstring problems a source of frustration for a player considered integral to the Redskins' success defensively. The training staff has continued to work with the nine-year veteran, coaches have exercised caution with him in practice and his hamstring "feels like it's getting better," Washington said yesterday, but the team takes a wait-and-see approach each week.
The Redskins (3-1) face the Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) tomorrow at Lincoln Financial Field, and Washington will be a game-time decision, Coach Jim Zorn said. Washington hopes to help the Redskins extend their winning streak to four games, but his hamstring must cooperate.
"A lot of times, you can tell a lot about a person when they're facing adversity," Washington said after his limited participation in practice at Redskins Park. "You're going to face adversity at some point in your life, so how do you deal with it?
"Do you sit around and cry and pout? Or do you suck it up and go play? I'm not one of those people who feels sorry for himself. I'm going to go out there and fight through it. That's part of being a team guy and a man."
Hobbled since aggravating the injury in the season-opening loss to the New York Giants, Washington, who turns 31 on Oct. 17, has played in three of the Redskins' four games, missing only the Week 2 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The Redskins appreciate Washington's dedication, many of his teammates said.
"I'm always a student, I always try to take a little from here and there, and from Marcus, you just take the intensity, the way he approaches the game and is not scared of anything," weak-side linebacker Rocky McIntosh said. "He gets out there when he can, and whenever he's out there, he gives 100 percent. That's all I know."
Said backup linebacker H.B. Blades, "His spirit is the way it's always been, he always has a positive nature, and you can't help but notice that and learn from it."
Rarely able to play in long stretches, Washington has been credited with only 13 tackles, including eight unassisted. Middle linebacker London Fletcher leads the team with 36 total tackles and 23 unassisted.
Washington missed four games and sat out parts of others last season because of recurring hamstring problems. He also dealt with a hip injury earlier this season ("It's not a problem now, just the hamstring," Washington said), and his role in rushing the passer has been reduced significantly.
Since he joined the Redskins as an unrestricted free agent before the 2004 season, Washington has been used in nickel situations as a hand-down rush end. He had 4 1/2 sacks and a personal-best 130 tackles his first season with the team (Washington was selected to the Pro Bowl), 125 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks during the 2005 season, and 106 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in the 2006 season.
Even with his limitations last season, during which he recorded his fewest tackles since his rookie season, Washington had five sacks. He does not have a sack to this point.
Although Washington's role in nickel situations was expected to change with the arrival of Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor in training camp, his hamstring injury has prompted defensive coordinator Greg Blache to look elsewhere to fill the role Washington once did so well.
"When he's in there, we just use him like always," linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. "Marcus and I have talked about the fact that when he's in there, we want Marcus Washington, we don't want some dude [wearing No.] 53. He does everything that we want him to do, and if he can't, then we go to the next guy."
With Taylor sidelined for the second consecutive week after having surgery to relieve compartment syndrome, a buildup of pressure because of internal bleeding in his lower leg, versatile lineman Demetric Evans will start at left end. When Evans moved to a defensive tackle spot in the nickel package during Sunday's victory over the Dallas Cowboys, defensive ends Chris Wilson and Erasmus James often lined up opposite right end Andre Carter.
"When you want to do things you've always done, and you can't do it because you're sore, yeah, it's frustrating," Washington said. "You just have to deal with it as best you can."
With hamstring injuries, rest plays a major part in recovery, Redskins training staff members said when they were permitted to speak with reporters last season. "The thing you have to have most with hamstrings is patience, but that doesn't make it easier," Washington said. "You just can't do anything about it. That's what's hard."
Fletcher has done what he can to help, encouraging Washington and reminding him of his importance to the defense.
"He's shared some things with me," Fletcher said. "It's a thing where, obviously, he wants to be as healthy as he possibly can be because he can make plays for us. Being able to rush the passer, being a physical guy in the run game, setting those edges for us when teams are trying to run the ball outside, he's a big part of our success.
"The thing that he's learned is to understand his body. When [Washington's hamstring] starts to feel great, don't test it full-out at Wednesday practice or Thursday practice when you've still got three, four more days to go before the game. You don't have to go full-bore because that's when you can have your setbacks."
Washington has been honest in discussing his limitations each week with Olivadotti, and their communication has helped Blache in making important personnel decisions for game plans. Blades, in his second season in the league, has played well in place of Washington, Olivadotti said, and the group will be even better if Washington returns at full strength.
"Marcus understands," Olivadotti said. "He just does what he can do and we work through it. H.B. has been in there, working hard, and it's been good work for him. You can look at it as a negative or as a positive.
"I look at it like it's helped the group. And seeing Marcus work through it the way he has, all it does is help the other guys understand what it takes to be a professional."