As an NFL backup player, Bryan Kehl knows that the more he can do, the better his chances of making the team are. The self-described “special teams demon” is a “Jack” inside linebacker by trade but he also keeps an eye on the other positions.
That paid off on Saturday when about 20 minutes before the afternoon practice started, the coaches informed Kehl that they were going to give London Fletcher the day off so Kehl would need to play Mike linebacker with the first team at practice that day.
His experience playing the Mike was minimal. “I've never really done it until my second or third year in New York and I did it just a little bit,” he said.
The difference is much greater than moving over a few yards. “On every play, he's [the Mike] got to set everybody up,” said the five-year NFL veteran. “And if he messes it up the defense is messed up. You’re the quarterback of the defense.”
The thing is, on the other side of the ball, quarterbacks have many months, even years, to prepare to take practice snaps. Kehl barely had enough notice to get nervous.
Kehl saw the fact that the coaches dropped whole Mike linebacker thing on him with such short notice as a good sign. “I think there's a lot of players where they wouldn't feel comfortable telling them 20 minutes before practice, ‘hey, you're going to play this position,’” he said. “I like that they have the confidence in my that they know that I can handle that.”
Backup quarterbacks generally have a good idea when they might get another chance to call the signals. Not so with backup Mike linebackers.
“I guess [I’ll play it again] just if London's not practicing, or, I don't know what their plan is,” he said.
Kehl’s prospects for making the team improved after Keenan Robinson suffered a torn left pectoral muscle that will sideline him for a substantial part of the season, if not all of it. As all the players are saying, it’s “next man up” and that is Kehl.
The 29-year-old was in camp last year and was one of the stars of summer. He intercepted a pass in a preseason game and had his hands on a couple more. But when it came time to pick the final 53-man roster, Kehl was released.
The Chiefs picked him up but cut him after he played in just a few games. After Robinson was injured last year (same injury, other arm), the Redskins brought Kehl back into the fold.
Learning to play the Mike position could help Kehl avoid the fate that he suffered a year ago.