The Redskins are preparing for the possibility that the practically unthinkable—playing a game without linebacker London Fletcher—will happen.
Fletcher has played in 231 straight games. But his streak appears in jeopardy after he suffered a hamstring injury during last Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants, then Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said Wednesday that Fletcher was experiencing issues with his balance and would be examined by a neurologist.
The Redskins are leaving open the possibility that Fletcher will be in the lineup for Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh, even after he missed Wednesday’s practice. But they also are readying for the alternative.
“I’m just preparing like he’s not going to play so that I’m prepared to go out there,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said Thursday at Redskins Park. “But knowing him, he’s an iron man and he’ll take care of himself and will probably be ready to go.”
Alexander and rookie Keenan Robinson took over for Fletcher in the late stages of the defeat to the Giants. Alexander would likely start in place of Fletcher against the Steelers if Fletcher is unable to play.
Playing without Fletcher would deprive the Redskins not only of having their most reliable tackler, it also would mean playing without their defensive leader and play-caller.
“He means a lot,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “He’s our leader as far as getting the play calls in, making sure everybody is getting aligned correctly up front and everywhere, and just that intensity that he brings to our defense. I feel like that’s a big part of why he’s [been] here for a long period of time and why he’s able to produce each and every year.”
The Redskins already are playing without three injured starters on defense. Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker are on the injured reserve list with season-ending injuries. Safety Brandon Meriweather hasn’t played all season because of a knee injury.
“We don’t know” about Fletcher’s playing status this week, Orakpo said. “So we’ll see. I’m not going to speculate on it. But we’re going to need London out there if he’s able to go.”
The Redskins say they’ll do the best they can without Fletcher, if needed.
“What you lose from London is obviously the leadership role, the type of passion [and] energy he brings to the game, much like a Ray Lewis,” Alexander said. “Obviously you can’t match what he brings to the game experience-wise. There’s not too many guys that have played 15 years and call out defenses. But am I capable of going out there and getting there and winning a game for us as well? Yes. Is Keenan able to do it? Yes.”
Alexander, the Redskins’ special teams captain, has had an increased role on defense in recent weeks, at both inside and outside linebacker. He played 41 of the Redskins’ 63 defensive snaps against the Giants. Robinson participated in a dozen defensive plays in that game. Fletcher played in 46 defensive plays against the Giants and fellow inside linebacker Perry Riley was on the field for all 63 defensive snaps.
“It’ll be tough,” outside linebacker Rob Jackson said. “But I feel like we’ve got a lot of depth at linebacker and I feel like Lorenzo Alexander, he’ll be ready to step in and do what needs to be done…. I think we’ve been around [Fletcher] long enough that we know what he expects and know how to play off each other and motivate each other.”
Orakpo said he finds Fletcher’s longevity and durability amazing.
“For him to still have the same intensity and same desire year in and year out–I can’t see myself 10, 15 years from now still playing at a high level like he’s playing,” Orakpo said. “It’s a tremendous credit to him and how hard he works and what he brings to this Redskins organization.”