Redskins linebacker Perry Riley made his inaugural NFL start on Sunday in Miami, and the second-year linebacker made the most of an opportunity he’s been waiting on for a season-and-a-half.
Riley, a fourth-round pick in 2010, led the Redskins with nine tackles against the Dolphins. Of his nine stops, four took place in Miami’s backfield — the most tackles for loss by a Redskins defender in 10 years.
“I thought Perry did a good job,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “He’s got a lot to work on, but, for the first time out, I thought he was active. He made a lot of plays. He’s got a lot of little things he’s got to clean up, but that’s going to be a continuous battle. I think he did a good job. He was poised. Nothing really rattled him. I was impressed with him.”
While Haslett confirmed that Riley would remain the Redskins’ starting jack-linebacker moving forward, he also admitted that the second-year defender has ample room for improvement.
“He had 64 plays and I think we gave him like 15 minuses, which is a lot,” a candid Haslett said about how Riley graded out in his debut-start. “I don’t want to say we’re picking on him, but there are things he needs to know and, once he gets onto the field and plays more.. he’ll understand it. That’s what you go through. It’s growing pains.”
Haslett wasn’t Riley’s only supporter in the wake of his most extensive playing time. Head coach Mike Shanahan also liked what he saw in Riley, the 103rd player taken in the 2010 draft.
“If you watch that football game and you couldn’t see that this guy was a little bit quicker, a little bit faster than everybody else on the field, then you’re not looking at the linebacker position,” Shanahan said. “He can make plays in the open field tackling, that a lot of guys can’t make. That’s the first thing that you look for as a coach is who can make plays on running backs in the open field. Usually guys don’t have that type of athletic ability.”
As athletically gifted as Riley, who has been a special teams standout since last season, has proven to be — he’ll have to continue to make mental strides to maintain his starting role.
“There’s going to be some growing pains,” Shanahan admitted. “We’ve got to spend some extra time and get him on the same page, because you want your best athletes out there making plays. He loves this game. He’s very enthusiastic. I just think he’ll keep on getting better and eliminate some of those rookie mistakes as time goes on.”