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Fletcher's Arrival Could Lead to Linebacker Shuffle

With the addition of London Fletcher in free agency, the Redskins will likely have a new middle linebacker in 2007. Most of this decade, the position has been in flux: Fletcher would become the Redskins' sixth middle linebacker since 2000.

What about Lemar Marshall, who has started in the middle the last two seasons?

He could have a new role in 2007.

Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams has not discussed his plans for the linebacker positions, but it seems likely that the team will move Marshall back to the outside next season.

The Redskins have always placed a high priority on versatile players, and Marshall certainly fits the bill.

At 6-2 and 232 pounds, Marshall is a former college safety who is thought to be a better fit at weak-side linebacker. He could even shift to strong-side linebacker in coverage packages.

"Lemar has played outside linebacker and inside," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "He is a valuable part of our football team and we think he is going to continue doing that. With us getting London, I think it gives us flexibility."

While Marshall could stay involved at middle linebacker in some defensive packages, it appears he will likely compete with second-year player Rocky McIntosh for playing time on the weak-side.

That competition could shape up as one to watch in off-season work and training camp this summer.

Marshall played weak-side linebacker in 2004 after LaVar Arrington suffered a knee injury early in the season. Marshall started 14 games in place of Arrington and logged 82 tackles and 1.5 sacks for a defense that finished fourth overall in the NFL.

The next two seasons, Marshall took over at middle linebacker. He was solid in 2005, leading the ninth-ranked defense in tackles with 132 and interceptions with four. He also notched two sacks.

The defense slumped last year, so the Redskins sought to upgrade the unit during free agency with the addition of Fletcher and cornerback Fred Smoot.

Last year's starter at weak-side linebacker, unrestricted free agent Warrick Holdman, remains unsigned by the team.

Is McIntosh ready for an increased role on defense?

The Redskins traded up in the 2006 NFL Draft to acquire the 6-2, 227-pound linebacker out of Miami, but he did not see significant action until late in the season. He started the Redskins' last two games at weak-side linebacker and recorded 23 tackles.

"It was basically a season of learning for me," McIntosh said of his rookie season. "I had to learn the scheme before I could get out there. I think I got better and more comfortable as the season went on."

The off-season will certainly be critical in McIntosh's development. He will need to show progression and understanding of the defensive scheme.

Fletcher, a 9-year NFL veteran, joined the Redskins after five seasons with the Buffalo Bills. He has become a tackling machine: he led the Bills in tackles each year from 2002-06, averaging 122 tackles per season. In addition, he has logged 27.5 career sacks.

Fletcher, who stands at 5-10 and 245 pounds, is expected to serve as the team's every-down middle linebacker.

Asked what impressed him most about Fletcher, Gibbs said: "First of all, he doesn't come out. A lot of players will play first and second down. Some players play third down. London gives us someone who can play all downs.

"He doesn't come out of the game. He is very competitive and [football] means a lot to him."

Like Marshall, Fletcher can move sideline-to-sideline and he also knows the Redskins' defensive scheme. He played for Williams in 2002-03 when both were in Buffalo.

"Obviously he knows the scheme and fits in real well," Gibbs said. "We have someone that we feel really fits with us."

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