In Redskins' rocky season, McIntosh has been smooth

Free from recurring knee problems, linebacker Rocky McIntosh (52) is playing as well as he ever has, part of the reason he's the Redskins' second-leading tackler. He's also begun to reveal more of his personality.
Free from recurring knee problems, linebacker Rocky McIntosh (52) is playing as well as he ever has, part of the reason he's the Redskins' second-leading tackler. He's also begun to reveal more of his personality. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Paul Tenorio
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rocky McIntosh ducked just inside the doors of the team headquarters at Redskins Park after a practice just more than a week ago and glanced around before finally signaling for an interviewer to join him away from the outside area, where one tape recorder often quickly leads to a group of cameras and, in his opinion, too much attention.

"Fastest two minutes in football," McIntosh said, placing a time limit on the conversation with a smile as he leaned back on an exercise machine.

In his four seasons with the Redskins, McIntosh rarely has talked to the media, allowing only brief glances into what makes the starting weak-side linebacker tick. In the midst of his best season as a professional, however, McIntosh has shown more of his personality off the field while finally appearing comfortable on the field for a defense that has been one of the few positives in Washington's disappointing 2-5 season.

McIntosh is enjoying the best start of his career, ranking second on the team with 54 tackles, according to the Redskins' statistics, and providing several crucial plays, including two forced fumbles.

It is the latest step in the continued growth of the 2006 second-round draft pick, who has struggled with lingering knee injuries but has quietly racked up 209 tackles in the past two seasons, according to the team -- second behind veteran linebacker London Fletcher, one of the most productive tacklers in the league. (Tackles are not an official league statistic. The NFL credits McIntosh with 39 tackles this year and 174 over the past two seasons.)

"I'm definitely having fun; I'm always having fun because that's what I did in college," McIntosh said of his start to the season. "This is a business-type atmosphere, but you can't forget it's just a game, so you have to go out there and have fun. As far as the game, it's slowing down for me, and I'm able to see things real quick and go out there and make quick decisions and nice plays."

Despite his aversion to the spotlight -- McIntosh once traded jerseys with a teammate at practice to try to avoid media members -- the linebacker this offseason stepped into the public eye as one of the most active Redskins on Twitter, where he tweets as @RockyM52.

McIntosh also has a blog on his Web site, http://www.rockymcintosh52.com, but the entries contain far less personality than his twitter account, which have provided a snapshot of McIntosh's outgoing nature -- one his teammates and coaches said they have always known.

"I think that's one of those things, everybody told me how Rocky doesn't talk and all that stuff," linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. "Rocky and I have always had a pretty good relationship over the last three or four years, so I think what everybody else is seeing is something that we always knew about. You ask H.B. [Blades] and London and I and we're like, 'Rocky's got some personality now; don't let him fool you.' "

The more relaxed version of McIntosh off the field is perhaps tied to a greater comfort on it, where in his fourth season he appears more at ease both in his role on the defense and with the professional game. Most importantly, however, is that McIntosh finally appears to be fully healthy.

For much of his career, the linebacker's name has been followed with some description of the knee problems that have plagued him.

Knee issues caused several teams to downgrade McIntosh entering the draft out of the University of Miami, and McIntosh had minor procedures on his knees before and after his rookie season. After earning a starting spot in his second season with Washington in 2007 and playing well despite shoulder problems, McIntosh tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee and missed the final two games of the regular season, as well as the Redskins' playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

McIntosh underwent major reconstructive surgery, but returned in time for the start of last season, playing in 16 games and starting 15 -- though his reduced play late in the year had some wondering if the knees again had worn down, a theory McIntosh denied.

This season, McIntosh has appeared more aggressive and has "been showing up a bit more, just flying around," said Olivadotti, who pointed to McIntosh being "healthy again," as one factor in his strong play. McIntosh also has excelled in pass coverage, recently helping hold Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek, who leads the Eagles with 37 receptions, to eight yards on three catches.

"Rocky's playing some real good football for us," Fletcher said. "It's going unnoticed on our defense because a lot of other guys are getting a lot of attention, but he's playing his best football. Very physical in the run game, and he's really covering tight ends well. Just playing really good football for us."

Redskins linebackers are among the biggest beneficiaries of the play of a defensive line bolstered by the arrival of All-Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth, and McIntosh entered this season seeking a contract extension (he hired agent Drew Rosenhaus this offseason).

"It's kind of the natural progression," Olivadotti said. "I think he's been able to consistently put a string of productive plays together and he has to keep that up. The season is a long haul and we've got a long way to go, so he just has to keep that consistency."


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