Now in his fourth NFL season and third as a starter, inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr. has taken an obvious step forward in his development, becoming more versatile and disruptive for the Washington Redskins defense.
The LSU product had a career year last season, racking up 129 tackles (second on the team behind London Fletcher’s 139), 3.5 sacks and seven pass deflections. This season, he’s on pace to surpass all of those numbers having recorded a team-high 43 tackles, two sacks and a pass deflection in five games.
Prior to the season, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan described Riley as “one of the fastest linebackers in the league,” and predicted that Riley would have a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
Last Thursday, he had more praise for the former fourth-round pick.
“Perry is a worker. He’s got a lot of athletic ability – his speed, his quickness, his toughness, and you want to keep him on the field as much as you can,” Shanahan said. “As he gets more experience being a veteran player, we can expand his role. If it’s blitzing or if it’s one-on-one in coverage, he kind of has the ability to do it all. He’s a playmaker and he just feels more comfortable every time he’s out there. He’s a big plus for our defensive football team.”
In today’s game day Q&A, Riley discusses a uniform change, his growth as a linebacker and his history with Chicago’s Matt Forte, who he’ll face today.
MJ: This year you added the ‘Jr.’ to the back of your jersey. What prompted that decision?
PR: I just felt like it was time. My dad asked me about it last year, and I felt like it would make him happy. So, I just went ahead and did it.
MJ: Did he know you were going to do it?
PR: Naw. Just Monday night [in the season opener], watching the game, and he saw it. My mom said he got pretty emotional. I didn’t see him, but my mom said he shed a tear or two, so it made me feel good knowing that. He hasn’t said anything to me about it.
MJ: Growing up, what did they call you since you were a junior?
PR: They called me J.R.
MJ: Do you have kids?
PR: Two. One boy, one girl. Two and 4 months.
MJ: What’s your son’s name?
PR: He’s a Third. Keeping the tradition going.
MJ: Does he like football yet?
PR: He likes football. When we’re at the house, he always has a ball in his hand. He likes sports, whether it’s football, baseball, he’s an athletic kid. I can’t wait for the day that he can choose what he wants to play. It’s exciting. They grow so fast. I remember when he couldn’t even roll over, and now he’s holding full conversations with you.
MJ: What’s this season been like for you so far?
PR: We’re losing so it’s been kind of rough. I know we’re a lot better than our record shows, and we’re a lot better than we’ve been playing. So, it’s been a tough season, but I know we’ll get back on track and we’ve got the personnel and the people in the locker room to turn things around.
MJ: You’re coming off of a pretty disruptive game against Dallas. What was the key?
PR: They kept putting a back on me, and I’m a confident guy and I feel like there’s no back that can block me. They put the back on me almost every time I blitzed and I was able to disrupt some plays.
MJ: Haslett is moving you around a lot this year. How do you like this more creative role?
PR: I love it. The offense can’t really get a hold on where you’re going to be. They can’t draw schemes for where I’m going to be. We did it some last year. We didn’t do it as much at the beginning of the year, but toward the end of the year, we did it some and I was able to get some sacks.
MJ: How else has your job changed this year?
PR: Covering-wise. They’ve given me some of the coverage load. My first couple years, they gave London the coverage load, but this year, they’re making me guard the tight end up the seam or the receiver up the seam. I’m capable of doing it, so I’m glad they’re putting that responsibility on me, and I want to show them that I can do that.
MJ: What’s the key to success for a linebacker playing pass coverage?
(Before he can answer, tight end Niles Paul walks up and says, “The reason why Perry Riley is who he is today, is because I’ve been giving him the business for three years on routes, and he’s been having to cover me. For three years.”)
PR: There you have it [laughs]. But just staying high, don’t get beat deep, don’t let the receiver get behind you, or get behind the coverage. Being able to run with the guys. I pride myself on being fast, having speed, so I try to show I can cover everybody.
MJ: Playing at LSU, did you face Chicago’s Matt Forte when he was at Tulane?
PR: Yeah, I played him one year. It was ’07, I think it was his senior year. We beat them. But he had a good game. He had over a hundred on us.
MJ: What makes him a good back?
PR: He’s good coming out of the backfield as far as receiving. He’s a good running back as well, but they use him a lot in routes and getting him the ball out of the backfield, so he’s a great receiving back. You definitely have to pay attention to him. They’ll sneak him out. He’ll start blocking, and you’ll see on film, some [linebackers] kind of lose sight of him, and he’ll sneak out and be gone for a touchdown, so you definitely have to keep your eyes on him and know where he is at all times.