By Kevin Ross II
The history of the National Football League tells us that a defense will typically take on the identity of its middle linebacker. The middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense as he calls the plays, puts his guys in the best position to succeed, but most importantly he’s the guy who brings the wood when it matters most.
When you think about a typical middle linebacker, who comes to mind? I think about guys like Ray Lewis and Mike Singletary. Linebackers who set the tone for their entire ballclub, guys whose personalities are too big and whose hits are too hard to ever mistake them for average.
But what happens when the leader of a defense, fails at his job and becomes invisible on the field? It’s no coincidence that the worst season of London Fletcher’s career has coincided with the Redskins defense being historically bad.
The legend of Ray Lewis speaks of a man who hit running backs so hard that he would put the fear of God into 235-pound grown men. Ray’s hits would often electrify his entire unit, and would have average players on the Ravens defense bringing the wood like they were All Pro. And that’s the benefit of having a killer at middle linebacker; his play elevates the entire unit.
The problem with the Redskins defense is that their team leader no longer puts the fear of God into anyone. Instead their middle linebacker is typically the one being ran straight over by backup running backs. Ray Lewis’s hits used to energize the Ravens, and London Fletcher being put on his backside energizes the Eagles, Packers, and Lions.
The truth hurts, but for the Redskins it may set them free of poor play. Because the truth says at this stage of Fletcher’s career he is a liability in pass coverage, he cannot travel sideline-to-sideline fast enough, he cannot get off of blocks, and he is non-existent in the run game. So far this season, you can easily forget that London Fletcher is on the field.
The eye-test says that London Fletcher can no longer play in the National Football League. Period.
Speaking this way about London Fletcher may seem sacrilegious to some, but this conversation needs to be had. Great teams in the NFL would rather get rid of players one year too soon, instead of one year too late. The Redskins organization has traditionally failed to subscribe to this notion, and puts too much stake into being loyal to veterans. Whether it’s Casey Rabach, Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley, or London Fletcher the organization is usually too worried about the public backlash that comes with releasing fan favorites. This trend however, needs to come to an end.
It would be in the best interest of the organization if the team began to phase-out London Fletcher and for the remainder of this season allow Nick Barnett to anchor the middle. Following the bye week, Nick Barnett should play 65% of the snaps against Dallas, and should play about 85% the next week against Chicago. When the media questions the team about Fletcher’s decreased role, the response should simply be, “Barnett gives us the best chance to win right now.”
Nick Barnett still has enough fire left to ignite this defense, something that London Fletcher has failed to do.
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Kevin Ross is a freelance writer covering all things Washington Redskins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.