Rookie linebacker Rocky McIntosh flashed potential in his first year as a Redskin, but in the eyes of defensive coaches, potential wasn't enough to earn significant playing time until late in the season.
So McIntosh earned his stripes on special teams, logging 25 tackles on kick coverage units, fourth-best on the team. In Week 12 against Carolina, he blocked a punt to help lead the Redskins to a win at FedExField.
McIntosh's future is not special teams, though. The Redskins traded up to select the 6-2, 231-pounder out of Miami in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He is projected to be a starting-caliber linebacker.
While fellow linebackers and 2006 draft picks A.J. Hawk, Thomas Howard, Ernie Sims and DeMeco Ryans enjoyed impressive rookie campaigns, McIntosh had to wait his turn.
"It was basically a season of learning for me," McIntosh said of his rookie season. "I'm a rookie, so 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."
Finally, in Week 16 at St. Louis, McIntosh was inserted into the starting lineup at weak-side linebacker. Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams had to reshuffle his linebackers after Marcus Washington was placed on injured reserve.
McIntosh did not start the season finale against the New York Giants, but he saw extensive playing time, again at the weak-side.
The Redskins' defense struggled tremendously in the last two games, and McIntosh's inexperience certainly played a part in those struggles. He recorded 15 tackles in the two games, his first extended NFL action.
McIntosh's most memorable play of the year was perhaps indicative of his learning process.
In the Week 16 game against St. Louis, the Rams faced a 3rd-and-1 at their 27-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Running back Steven Jackson took a handoff and ran up the middle.
McIntosh, uncertain if he was part of the short-yardage package, raced on to the field late. Just as the ball was snapped, McIntosh plugged the interior to stuff Jackson at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
"I got my chance to play and I think I went out there and did well," McIntosh said. "It was great being out there. It was good to get a feel for the [NFL] game and hit guys. I was a little sore after that first game, but I got used to it and I just went out there and had fun."
Said Williams: "Rocky showed that he's very ballistic, stout and strong. He had to do more in the last game against the Giants, and there were a few things that we saw from the sidelines that were mistakes. We're going to have to work hard with him and make sure he understands.
"Sometimes Rocky put himself in a bad position and he was able to overcome it and make a play, or at least contribute to the play. I know that he has a tremendous attitude and he wants to get better."
Middle linebacker Lemar Marshall understands the learning process that young players have to go through in Williams' defense.
"It takes time to learn the system," Marshall said. "You can see that he has made a lot of strides. You could see him on special teams early on making a lot of plays."
McIntosh also has to learn how to play along-side Marshall, Washington and other Redskins linebackers, Williams said.
"It is easy to all of the sudden say, 'Hey Gregg, go and put this [player] in,' but the other guys have to play beside him," Williams said. "They have to get comfortable playing beside him too. All rookies have to go through that.
"Late in the season, we increased his practice reps and he had more dedicated time with the top [linebackers]. It was a learning [process] all year for him, but he came along well."
Added McIntosh: "You're out there with a bunch of different guys and you have to adjust to how they're playing, and they have to adjust to you, too. That's something that will come with time."
McIntosh hopes that "time" comes in 2007. He underwent minor surgery on his right knee earlier this month, but otherwise he is expected to get an opportunity with the first-team defense this offseason.
"I just want to get better, continue to get healthier, and come out here and give it my best shot," he said.