Is Fletcher still an every-down linebacker?

Is Fletcher still an every-down linebacker?
July 12, 2013, 1:15 pm
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SportsTalk Live: Skins training camp 2 weeks away

Tandler - Tarik

By Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler
CSNwashington.com

Twenty questions No. 13—Is London Fletcher still a three-down linebacker?

The 2013 Redskins are loaded with storylines. Between now and the start of training camp, Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will be examining the top 20 questions the Redskins face as they get ready for the season.

For 15 seasons, London Fletcher has been one of the NFL’s most consistent, productive and reliable linebackers. In fact, if he’s on the field for the Redskins’ opener Sept. 9 against the Eagles, he’ll inherit the league’s longest active consecutive games streak (241). But there were signs in 2012 that Father Time had begun to catch up to the 38-year-old as he battled balance issues as well as a hamstring pull, a severely sprained ankle and an elbow injury. The latter two required surgery this offseason -- the first and second procedures of Fletcher’s distinguished career -- to correct. There’s not much doubt Fletcher will begin the season as the Redskins’ every-down ‘Mike’ linebacker. But given his age and growing propensity for injury, the question is whether he’ll also finish atop the depth chart.

Tarik El-Bashir: Although I’m not a sentimental kind of guy, I do feel Fletcher has earned the right to prove he can still be a dominant force in the middle of the Redskins’ defense. After all, he led the team in combined tackles last season (139), recorded a career-high five interceptions and notched three sacks, his highest total since 2005. That said, Fletcher had a difficult time in pass defense and opposing offenses recognized that. Maybe he was slowed by the injuries and it won’t be an issue this season. If it does prove problematic again, though, the Redskins must adjust. Ideally, Fletcher, who is entering the final year of his contract, will perform solidly enough to bridge the gap to a young, up-and-coming linebacker such as Keenan Robinson. But if he doesn’t, I suspect the transition could take place sooner.

Rich Tandler: This is a decision that I am glad I don’t have to make. Fletcher struggled defending tight ends last year and the injuries mentioned by Tarik didn’t help. Perhaps getting Keenan Robinson into the mix will help lock down guys like Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. And it would give Robinson some valuable playing time assuming he is Fletcher’s heir apparent. But even a partial benching of Fletcher might not play well with the fans or, more importantly, the locker room. He has a lot of pride and if he expresses displeasure, publically or privately, with being a spectator it could be an issue. It’s a lot to consider. All you can do is hope that Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett make the best decision based on football criteria. It would be a mistake to let sentiment or public relations play into the decision.

Upcoming on 20 questions

  • Question 12 Saturday: What can Jordan Reed contribute this year?
  • Question 11 Sunday: Who will be the nickel cornerback?
  • Question 10 Monday: Will Fred Davis be at full speed?