By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2008
As he prepared to leave the locker room at Redskins Park the other day, weak-side linebacker Rocky McIntosh was in no mood to answer reporters' questions. McIntosh was not upset; he would just prefer never to be interviewed.
"Nah man, can't do it," he politely repeated several times in a scene that has become familiar at the complex. "You know that's not me. I'm not that guy. Why do you want to talk to me? I haven't done anything, anyway."
Actually, McIntosh has done a lot. He played well again in Sunday's 23-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, continuing his impressive return to the lineup after reconstructive knee surgery ended his 2007 season.
McIntosh's strong performance helped Washington limit Philadelphia to 254 yards of total offense -- including only 174 yards after the game's opening possession -- in its fourth consecutive victory. With strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington slowed by recurring hamstring problems again this season, McIntosh and middle linebacker London Fletcher have provided the group's foundation.
In his third season, McIntosh has emerged as a leader on defense, coaches and players said, especially during the winning streak. Washington (4-1) hosts the St. Louis Rams (0-4) on Sunday at FedEx Field.
McIntosh is respected in the locker room for his selfless approach and dedication during his offseason rehabilitation from the knee surgery. Of course, he would rather not talk about that.
"I'm just out there to help my teammates," said McIntosh, who each week declines many interview requests. "We all work for each other. It's like a chain: Everybody's got to work or the chain is going to pop or break down. We all got to work together. That's the way I see it."
Credited with 31 tackles, including 25 unassisted, McIntosh ranks second on the team to Fletcher in both categories. He also has two of the team's three forced fumbles (Fletcher has the other).
He was solid against the run and in pass defense in the victory over the Eagles, recording five unassisted tackles and breaking up one pass. The Eagles had hoped for a bounce on offense because of the return of All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook, who sat out the previous game after spraining his right ankle.
With McIntosh winning many of his individual battles on the edge, the Eagles struggled to run wide. Philadelphia had only 58 yards rushing on 18 carries, and Westbrook finished with 33 yards and a 2.8-yard average. "We practiced the whole week like he was going to play 100 percent," McIntosh said. "He got in the game, he made some plays, but we didn't make no adjustments. We just stuck to our game plan out there and executed."
Washington ranks 13th in the league in total defense, giving up an average of 303 yards per game. The Redskins are ninth in rushing defense with an 85.4-yard average.
"Rocky is becoming a very, very fine football player," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "In the run game, he's always been a big hitter, but his pass coverage is starting to improve. He's becoming much more confident, and not just as far as assignments.
"He's always been [solid] assignment-wise, but the nuances and the subtleties of the game are starting to become second nature to him. You see growth taking place, but also his ability to be a leader. Not necessarily a 'rah-rah guy,' but just a supportive guy out on the field. So there's a lot of growth in Rocky."
McIntosh also was among the Redskins' defensive catalysts during a 24-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3. He led Washington with 10 tackles, including seven unassisted, and was credited with half a sack. Although McIntosh reluctantly acknowledged that "it feels cool" to contribute to the Redskins' early success, he strongly believes "everybody on defense is a leader in some sort of way. There's certain things guys admire about each other."
Many Redskins players admired McIntosh for the tireless work ethic he displayed in rehab after he was injured Dec. 16. McIntosh tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee in a 22-10 victory over the New York Giants at Giants Stadium. He had surgery shortly after the swelling subsided and began the long recovery process.
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 statistics compiled by the team. Fletcher finished with 128 tackles.
In training camp in July, McIntosh impressed at times when the first-team offense and first-team defense competed in 11-on-11 drills, but, on the recommendation of the Redskins' medical staff, Coach Jim Zorn and Blache exercised caution. They held out McIntosh from the team's first two preseason games, and McIntosh returned to the lineup on Aug. 16 against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium.
"Obviously, the first couple of preseason games, it took him a little bit just to get the confidence back in his knee, but he's been playing well for us now," Fletcher said. "He's playing the run real well, making plays in the passing game and creating turnovers. He's definitely a big part of our success."
McIntosh, who had a history of right knee problems while at the University of Miami, has put his most recent procedure behind him. "The injury, that's a long time ago," he said. "You can't worry about that. The NFL [stands for] 'Not For Long.' You can't worry about that."
And McIntosh also cannot focus on his individual success in previous games, he said, because "I don't really go by that. I'm going to go out there and do what I've got to do each week; the past doesn't matter. However, [the coaches] want me to do it, special teams, defense, wherever they want me to go, I'm going to go do it."
McIntosh has not disappointed, linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. "Rocky's doing the things that we expect of him, and he's taking steps every week and getting closer to being the guy he wants to be," Olivadotti said. "It's not about our expectations as coaches; Rocky wants to be a good player.
"He'll continue to prepare and he'll continue to get better. Rocky's going to play physical for you, and he's going to do good things, but he's like anybody else. We need to work on some stuff, but he's playing at a level that can help us win. It's just kind of been a progression the whole way."
McIntosh intends to continue climbing. "Some little part of the brain, you could say, 'I'm happy,' " McIntosh said. "But the rest is just not satisfied."