With training camp just around the corner for the Washington Redskins, one of the more interesting camp battles will be held at inside linebacker. London Fletcher held the role of the Mike, or middle, linebacker. He was responsible for calling the plays and making adjustment calls based on his reads of the opposition. He was a vocal leader in the locker room and his leadership and experience will undoubtedly be missed. But in terms of his on-field production, he shouldn’t be too difficult to replace.
Fletcher’s play had deteriorated over the past few seasons, particularly in pass coverage.
Here, Fletcher is lined up in man coverage against Antonio Gates. Gates is running a 12-yard comeback route.
Fletcher runs across and stays tight to Gates until the cut.
Gates cuts quickly back to the ball, catching Fletcher off guard. Fletcher takes a few extra steps and turns away from the ball to try and recover.
That leaves Gates wide open for the catch and creates a gap that Fletcher has to try and close quickly to make a tackle and keep the gain to a minimum.
Fletcher’s coverage hasn’t been his strong suit for quite some time. He lost some of his speed as he aged, leaving him vulnerable to getting beat deep. He overcompensated by trying to stay on top of routes, which allowed tight ends to run plays like the comeback we saw above from Gates with ease. But Fletcher’s ability to set the defense and defend the run kept him on the field past his prime. Unfortunately, his run support began to fall off this season as well.
This play saw the Redskins backed up on their own six-yard line. The Bears run a simple power hand off up the middle.
Fletcher makes the wrong read and finds himself out of position on the outside, with running back Matt Forte running right up the middle.
Fletcher was slow to adjust and can’t get back in time to make the tackle, allowing Forte to run it in for a touchdown.
Washington shouldn’t have too much trouble replacing Fletcher’s play. They added Adam Hayward, Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton to compete with Keenan Robinson, who missed all of last season injured. Robinson looks like the early favorite to win the job, bringing athleticism that gives him an advantage in both coverage and the run game.
What the Redskins will struggle to replace was Fletcher’s leadership and ability to set the defense. Robinson lacks much experience at the NFL level and doesn’t appear to be the vocal leader that Fletcher was. The additions of veterans like Ryan Clark and Jason Hatcher, along with established voices in the locker room like Barry Cofield and DeAngelo Hall should help pick up the leadership responsibilities previously held by Fletcher. But Robinson will have to prove he can be trusted to make adjustment calls at the line if he is to win the job in training camp.
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