Slights Keep Redskins' Fletcher Motivated

Linebacker London Fletcher has been his team's top tackler for nine straight seasons.
Linebacker London Fletcher has been his team's top tackler for nine straight seasons. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 2008; Page D01

About two weeks ago, a longtime mentor and coach of London Fletcher's visited him in Ashburn, where he had to convince some of the squat middle linebacker's teammates that Fletcher was a very good point guard who was actually recruited to play college basketball.

Redskins teammates Antwaan Randle-El and Marcus Washington wanted to know if Fletcher, who is generously listed at 5 feet 10, could play above the rim.

"Oh, he could get up, he had hops, he could dunk," Mike Moran said, relaying by telephone this week how he eventually converted the locker room doubters.

"The only problem London had was he never slowed down on the court; he played with same kind of intensity and speed he did on the field," Moran said. "So it was really a bull in a china shop running your team. If you went to take a charge against him, he would hit you so hard you'd be planted against the wall. He was so high-strung. I used to say he started every collegiate game he played in with three fouls."

That aggressive, need-for-speed Division III kid plays in his 11th NFL home opener today at FedEx Field, trying to corral another high-octane offense the way his high school and college coach tried to corral him.

Washington's only significant defensive acquisition a year ago, Fletcher resuscitated a unit that ranked 31st in the NFL the year before he came from Buffalo, and lifted it to the top 10.

"I'm just a piece of the puzzle; it takes 11 guys," he said earlier this week, sitting outside the team's locker room. "Now, is my role a little bit bigger than some of the guys? Yes. But we all have a role. You got your leading actors and you got your supporting actors."

Humility notwithstanding, Fletcher is essentially Denzel in this film, and whether it bombs or not will have a lot to do with how he and his unit perform in the infancy stage of the Jim Zorn era.

Whether quarterback Jason Campbell gradually sprouts wings in Zorn's West Coast offense or not, no one denies any progression will take time. Meantime, a defense that often has carried the Redskins the past four years, allowing them to win eyesores of games, becomes their best chance for victory until the hard wiring on the other side of the ball happens.

Fletcher's ability to synchronize with his new defensive coordinator, Greg Blache, in calling schemes, making sure his teammates are aligned properly -- really, making sure Reggie Bush doesn't run wild today -- should be the major worry when it comes to synapses connecting between player and coach.

Blache calls Fletcher "the smartest guy I've ever been around or worked with."

"And that's saying a lot, because I had [Brian] Urlacher, who's a brilliant football player," said the defensive coordinator, who coached the Bears' Pro Bowl middle linebacker in Chicago.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company