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Blades Adjusting to NFL Level

It was a remarkable play for a 5-10, 236-pound middle linebacker.

H.B. Blades leapt high, using all his might, to bat away a pass to tight end Chris Cooley. He grabbed the ball in mid-air, as he fell to the ground, logging an interception. Blades quickly jumped up and turned up-field for a return.

The only downside? No one but his teammates and coaches--and a Redskins team photographer--was around to see the acrobatic play.

Most OTA practices are closed, so plays like Blades' interception are often hidden from fans and media.

Of course, at this stage of his young career, Blades needs to impress the Redskins coaching staff more than fans and media.

As the Redskins resume off-season work, Blades, a three-year starter at the University of Pittsburgh, continues to learn the NFL.

Certainly, Blades has a long way to go before he's ready to play middle linebacker on Sundays, but coaches like his potential.

"He is good around the ball," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "He tackles well and he gets his hands on the ball. If he can get the jump mentally on those things at the professional level like he did at the college level, he will be able to get some jumps on plays."

As the Redskins' sixth-round draft choice (179th overall) in the 2007 NFL Draft, Blades views himself as an "underrated player."

"I do believe I am a lot better than people think," he said. "I am still a rookie, so I am still learning. The coaches expect a whole lot of different things from what I was used to [at Pitt]--I am still adjusting to that."

Like most rookies, Blades is adjusting to the speed of the NFL game. He must learn to make quicker decisions. He must know when to attack the line of scrimmage or drop back in coverage, as he did during his interception in OTAs.

At Pitt, Blades appeared in 48 games and registered 433 tackles (252 solo), four sacks, six interceptions and 15 pass deflections in his career. His 433 tackles rank fifth in Big East Conference history.

The Redskins are committed to the newly signed London Fletcher at middle linebacker for the foreseeable future, so Blades will have time to develop his skills.

Fletcher, 5-10 and 245 pounds, and Blades are similar in height and style, so it appears to be a perfect mentor-student match.

"I see myself as a young London Fletcher," Blades said. "He's a very productive linebacker and he has been doing it for years. Playing behind somebody like him is an honor.

"I look up to people like London Fletcher and Zach Thomas, those linebackers with smaller stature, just because I know what it's like to be that. They know what it's like--and it was even harder for them in the past, just because smaller linebackers were not common. So to get an opportunity to learn from a veteran like [Fletcher]--you can't put a price on that.

"I'm going to listen to everything that he tells me and teaches me."

Blades is the son of former NFL star Bennie Blades and nephew of Brian and Al Blades who also played in the NFL.

"He has grown up around professional players, very good college players; he has a good college history, so he feels that he has something to prove every time he steps out onto the field," Williams said.

"I can't wait for H.B. to see London's motor or intensity in the meeting room. That is something that you can't really teach as coach but being around players like that."

Blades may have been around the NFL growing up in Miami, but he still has to pinch himself when he enters the Redskins locker room.

When he first arrived at Redskins Park, he took a moment at his locker to reflect on what he's accomplished--and what lies ahead.

"I had to look at my locker again and it says that I am a Redskin," he said. "I'm still adjusting. You are so used to doing things a certain way in the past. Now working with a new coaching staff, they are expecting more things out of you and they expect for you to do everything great."

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