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With Fletcher ailing, Alexander could start

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With Fletcher ailing, Alexander could start

If London Fletcher does not suit up Sunday in Pittsburgh, it's possible reserve Lorenzo Alexander will replace the venerable veteran and join the starting lineup for the first time since 2010.

Fletcher has played in 231 consecutive games, the longest streak among active players in the NFL. But the 37-year-old suffered a strained right hamstring Sunday and began complaining of balance problems Monday.

Fletcher did not practice Wednesday and was scheduled to be examined by a neurologist later in the day. He did not appear to practice Thursday, either.

Coach Mike Shanahan is expected to provide an update on Fletcher's status Thursday afternoon.

“Hopefully he’ll be cleared,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “We feel good [about] Lorenzo and Keenan” Robinson.

Alexander, meantime, started 12 games at linebacker in 2010 and saw ample time there against the Vikings, recording 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery deep in Minnesota’s end.

When Fletcher left Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium early in the fourth quarter, Alexander stepped in. Robinson also saw time at Fletcher's inside linebacker position.

“They did a nice job when they stepped in for London last week,” Haslett said. “It would be weird, a different feeling obviously” without Fletcher.

If Fletcher can’t go, it also could potentially change the complexion of a key matchup. Fletcher normally would assist in covering Heath Miller, the Steelers’ 6 foot 5, 256-pound tight end who’s averaging five receptions a game. That responsibility would then fall on Alexander, who has significantly less experience in pass coverage.

“London is awesome on the tight ends,” Haslett said. “Heath is a heck of a player. 'Zo will have his work cut out for him in that area. But he’ll be up to the challenge.”

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Redskins WR Josh Doctson is ready to show the NFL, "I'm good at what I do"

Redskins WR Josh Doctson is ready to show the NFL, "I'm good at what I do"

An Achilles injury robbed Josh Doctson of the bulk of his rookie season with the Redskins. After a strenuous offseason spent rehabbing and a clean bill of health, Doctson is ready to fight back.

"It feels good to be back out here with them and to be playing football again," Doctson said Wednesday at Redskins OTAs (full video above). "It's what I’ve been doing for a long time, it's why I’m here. I'm good at what I do."

Sure it's May and there was no contact, but Doctson showed how good he can look on Wednesday. He caught a number of balls throughout the two hour session and looked smooth in his routes. The second-year pro from TCU makes cuts while maintaining speed and balance, and the skills allowed him to get open a number of times to haul in passes using soft hands.

"Right now, so far, so good," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "I like the way he looks, like the way he runs and love the way he catches."

Late in the OTA session, Colt McCoy found Doctson for a deep touchdown. While the sidelines erupted, Doctson just calmly jogged back to the line of scrimmage and talked with coaches. 

Doctson explained that to "show my teammates, coaches and myself again that I can play with these guys, play at this level, it feels real good."

The Redskins will need the 6-foot-2, 202 lbs. Doctson this fall. With the exit of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon, more than 40 percent of Kirk Cousins' passing yards left the Washington offense. Free agent addition Terrelle Pryor will be expected to pick up a large chunk of that yardage, but Doctson will need to offset that loss as well.

"He’s been impressive. I think the big thing for him is the confidence in his Achilles and I think he’s got that right now. I saw him out there today and yesterday, the last two days he’s looked better and better. It looks like he can run down the field," Gruden said.

Doctson described the pain in his Achilles as "pretty much non-existent now."

Never a good place to look for nuanced analysis, last season some social media speculation suggested Doctson was homesick dealing with his injury. That theory seems foolish, as the receiver spent the entire offseason in Ashburn, working out and rehabbing.

"I'm feeling good. I'm feeling healthy," he said. "I got after it every day. It’s a tribute to my hard work why I'm feeling so feeling healthy."

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Redskins’ Norman confident that changes will improve defense

Redskins’ Norman confident that changes will improve defense

On Monday, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said that even though there have been a lot of changes to his team’s defense, there would be no grace period for them to gel and start playing effectively.

“We have a new defensive coordinator, new defensive line coach, new secondary coach,” said Gruden. “We have some new players on defense, some free agent acquisitions, some draft picks. They’re going to have to learn on the fly and learn to play together, which is going to be the biggest challenge for us.

“I don’t think patience is in the dictionary here in D.C. We have to be good now.”

RELATED: Who are the Redskins' roster locks?

The defense had plenty of issues last year. They were 19th in points allowed but 28th in yards and 20th in opponents’ passer rating. The unit saved its worst for the most critical situations, finishing 26th in red zone defense and dead last in third-down conversion rate.   

The organization responded by promoting Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator, hiring the well-regarded Jim Tomsula to coach the defensive line, and by bringing in some more talent. Their top two draft picks, DE Jonathan Allen and OLB Ryan Anderson, should contribute to the defense right away. D.J. Swearinger was signed as a free agent to man the free safety spot while Su’a Cravens moves from linebacker to play strong safety. Free agents Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee should bolster the defensive line along with Allen.

Cornerback Josh Norman likes the changes and is confident that the team will do better.

“We will be [good]. Fixed points, will be,” he said. “We’ve got guys that’s capable of being that, of doing that. They will do that and we will be better. We’re definitely not going to have the product that we had last year, that’s for sure.

“We’ve got . . . edge rushers out here that’s pretty darn good. We got some guys in the draft that’s going to help us out. In the secondary as well, we brought guys in that’s going to fill that void for us.”

MORE REDSKINS: OTA practice observations 

In addition to drafting Anderson, the Redskins hope to have OLB Junior Galette healthy and contributing to the pass rush this year. He has missed the last two seasons after two Achilles injuries. The last two seasons that Galette played he had double-digit sacks each year and he was out participating in team drills yesterday, a good sign that he is on the road to good health.

“We’re going to be a whole lot better than we was last year,” said Norman. “The stuff they have us going, the scheme we’re going to be playing in is going to fit to what suits us, what we’re most capable of doing. I think it’s going to be a lot different result, the product on the field.”

A better defensive product on the field will almost certainly lead to a better overall Washington Redskins team. They will need to be better to keep up with what looks to be an improved and very competitive NFC East.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.