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Blades Ready For Larger Role On Defense

H.B. Blades was doing his best to concentrate as media surrounded him at a locker.

That's hard to do with Mike Sellers nearby.

Sellers grabbed a microphone and started poking the rookie linebacker in the head, drawing sheepish laughter from Blades.

That's the life of a rookie. Except this rookie is about to play a prominent role in the Redskins' playoff push.

With Rocky McIntosh sidelined for the season with a knee ligament injury, Blades and veterans Khary Campbell and Randall Godfrey are expected to see playing time in his absence.

When McIntosh went down with his injury in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Giants, he was replaced by Blades on running downs and Campbell on passing downs. Godfrey was deactivated for the game.

Blades could make his first NFL start this Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings in a game with playoff implications.

"I'm very excited," he said. "Being a rookie, it's something you dream about your whole life. Getting an opportunity to play in games like this, with playoffs on the line, it's very exciting and rewarding.

Blades has worked at all three linebacker positions in practice, but he spends most alternating between weak-side and middle linebacker.

"When the game comes, I just think back to practice--basically I feel like it's the same thing we've been working on all week," he said. "I just go out there and turn it loose. I try not to over-think too much, and I just go out there and have fun."

Said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams: "It's nice to see the young H.B. step up and do some things. From a youth standpoint, he is one of the smarter rookies I have had at that position in a long time. He is able to handle an awful lot."

When the Redskins drafted Blades in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, they chose a player who was regarded as undersized but had great instincts at the line of scrimmage.

The 5-11, 236-pounder has proven that size has no correlation in stopping opponents and achieving success in football.

Blades followed his father, Bennie, to the NFL. Bennie Blades was a hard-hitting all-pro safety with the Detroit Lions. H.B.'s uncles Brian and Al also played in the NFL.

Blades, a Plantation, Fla., native, played his college ball at the University of Pittsburgh, where he enjoyed a productive career nearly as decorated as that of his relatives.

Blades developed a reputation for excellent football instincts, explosive tackling and durability. He became only the fifth player in Pitt history to record more than 400 tackles in a career, registering 433 tackles (252 solo). He also had four sacks, six interceptions and 15 pass break-ups.

In 2006, he was the Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

In his first year in the NFL, Blades played in all 14 games and recoded nine tackles (six solo) in limited action on defense. On special teams, he has 12 tackles, fifth-best on the team.

Blades has watched and learned from London Fletcher, another linebacker supposedly challenged by size. Fletcher is 5-10 in height, so he represents a good model for Blades.

"H.B. is a good young football player and he has a lot of instincts," Fletcher said. "He makes sure he's prepared mentally and physically every Sunday. I don't think the [Vikings] game will be too big for him."

Blades welcomes the national spotlight, the playoff atmosphere and the inhospitable crowd at the Metrodome this Sunday night.

"I like the pressure being on me," he said. "That's what's playing football is all about. If you don't get up for games like this, something is wrong with you."

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