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In Fletcher, A 'Quarterback' For the Defense




In recent Redskins history, no player has been able to step into the middle linebacker role and become a dominant force over a long period.

Lemar Marshall took over for Antonio Pierce and had a solid season in 2005 and the Redskins rode that key personnel switch into a postseason berth.

Before Marshall, there was Jeremiah Trotter, a Pro Bowler in Philadelphia but a player who looked to be in the wrong scheme in Washington.

Kevin Mitchell and Derek Smith had their moments but neither player was able to hold down the spot for the long haul.

On Saturday, the Redskins announced the player they hope can dominate in the middle in 2007 and beyond.

In London Fletcher, they're getting a veteran who has started in the middle for a pair of Super Bowl teams in St. Louis.

The plan is for him to develop into something of a bridge between Gregg Williams' sideline strategies and the on-the-field defensive calls and execution.

The free agent middle linebacker, a former Ram and Buffalo Bill, was the Redskins' top priority in the free agent hunt. He knows exactly what is expected of him as he enters his 10th NFL campaign.

"The coaches have told me exactly what they want," Fletcher said on Saturday afternoon. "They want a guy who can come into this defense and become a leader. They want a guy who can work with 10 other guys, exude confidence and make a call in the huddle."

That's what Fletcher had been doing for nine years in St. Louis and Buffalo. Even though he's entering double digits in terms of NFL service, Fletcher believes he had a lot left to offer.

"Basically, I'm being asked to do what I've done for the past nine seasons--go out there and make plays," Fletcher said.

Last year with the 7-9 Bills, Fletcher played in all 16 games at middle linebacker, recording team highs with 157 tackles and four interceptions.

He even got into the end zone twice, with a fumble return against New England in Week 1 and interception scamper versus Green Bay in Week 9.

In addition, Fletcher has a string of 103 consecutive games played.

In his career, Fletcher has averaged 122 tackles per season and has logged 27.5 sacks and nine interceptions.

According to Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs, Fletcher led all NFL linebackers with four interceptions in 2006 and over the past five years he's produced more tackles than any player in the game.

About half of the Redskins' staff is familiar with Fletcher, and Gregg Williams basically led the recruiting effort to bring Fletcher to his third NFL team.

"With London, we knew what we were getting," said Gibbs. "There's no guessing game. He doesn't want to come out of there, he'll run sideline-to-side line for you, and from a leadership point, he's the kind of player you want in your locker room."

Gibbs believes the 5-10, 245-pound Cleveland native will be one of the keys as the Redskins build their way back up from a defensive ranking of 31st overall in the NFL.

Gibbs added: "It's a short trip back. We think we can get back to that other level."

He was referring to the way the Redskins played aggressive defense and forced turnovers repeatedly in 2005.

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