Lorenzo Alexander, the Redskins' jack of all trades, is finally getting his big opportunity

By Jorge Castillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 9, 2010; 9:13 PM

Following another grueling morning training camp practice in the sizzling Virginia heat last week, Lorenzo Alexander joked with reporters when one asked about yet another position switch.

"I'm actually trying to get them to put 'athlete' by my name," the outside linebacker-in-training quipped.

If there's any Redskins can lay claim to such a label, it's Alexander. Since signing with Washington in 2006, he has played defensive line, guard, and fullback; his only NFL start was at tight end in 2007.

Over the past two seasons, Alexander recorded 40 tackles and four sacks in 31 games and thought he was finally establishing himself as a defensive end. That was before Coach Mike Shanahan told him he would be converting to linebacker, where he last played at St. Mary's High School in Berkeley, Calif.

Some NFL players wouldn't be pleased with such an order, but if anything, Alexander took it as an upgrade. Finally, Alexander has a chance to do what he has been working toward since he went undrafted in 2005: earn a starting spot.

"I sat there and watched the whole draft, seeing people's names go off, but it was a humbling experience," said Alexander, whom Carolina signed as an undrafted free agent.

Now he and fellow Cal product Andre Carter, who hosted Alexander during his recruiting visit to Berkeley, are competing to start at right outside linebacker opposite Brian Orakpo in new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense.

After spending the 2005 season on Carolina's practice squad, Alexander was released following the 2006 preseason and signed with Baltimore. He was released five days later and left pondering his future.

"When I asked him what he was going to do, it was right then and there that he said he needed to have something set up in case it was his last day in the profession," said Omar Young, Alexander's best friend since high school.

That thing was aiding inner-city youth and formulating a plan to start a foundation, which he established in 2008. The Lorenzo Alexander ACES serves inner-city youth in Oakland and Washington D.C. with various programs throughout the year.

"He's the spearhead; he's involved in every meeting, every sponsorship, every decision. He's super hands-on with that," Young said. "That's truly his baby."

"I started it because growing up I had a lot of people help me," said Alexander, 27. "I grew up in Oakland, in the inner-city, just like D.C. I just felt kids need some kind of support. You don't need a lot of money to do it. It just started with me going out and talking to kids in the community."

After getting cut by the Ravens, he was given another chance and signed with Washington in October 2006. He was put on the practice squad, where he played on both lines and tight end. An interior defensive lineman out of college, the Redskins converted him to guard during the following offseason. He arrived at training camp expecting to continue on the offensive line. But the coaching staff wanted him back on defense.

"I had to de-program myself and go learn the defensive playbook," he recalled. "And then when we started the season, I ended up back on offensive line, so I was just all over the place."

Throughout all the shuffling, Alexander has exhibited a relentless desire that was on full display during a special teams play in a preseason game against Tennessee in 2007.

"He got his helmet knocked off and still made a face tackle with his face, he made a big hit and had to get stitches because he was playing full speed, helmet on or not," former Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams recalled.

Asked if he would make that play again, Alexander simply replied, "Nah."

Then he changed his mind.

"I would still chase the ball down," he decided. "I would probably do it, but I wouldn't want to get hit like that again."

Learning new techniques and game plans while switching sides of the ball has been only part of the challenge for Alexander; he's also had to change his body. Since 2008, the 6-foot-1 Alexander's weight has dropped from 295 to 270 pounds.

Alexander's mother, Stephanie Moore, said all the movement didn't sit well with her son at first.

"It initially bothered him," Moore said of her son's constant adjustments. "He said, 'Okay, they're moving me here, they're moving me there and I'm not getting the opportunity to focus on one area so that you can see how well I can do.' He dug down deep and said, 'Wherever they put me, I'm gonna have to play.' "

As difficult and frustrating as the constant transitioning has been, it was a way for an undrafted player to stay in the league, waiting for the right chance.

"That's really what makes me appreciate where I'm at now as far as having the opportunity to start," Alexander said. "Being undrafted, being on the practice squad for two years, and I just kind of worked my way up the ranks. It's been a blessing in that way."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company