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Linebackers Excited For Season Together


With team captain London Fletcher back on the field last Thursday, it marked the first time that all four starting linebackers took the field together since Week 2 of the 2012 season.

It was nowhere near the intensity of the regular season, but it was comforting to see Fletcher alongside Perry Riley in the middle, with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo patrolling the outside of a fearsome front-seven.

Orakpo spoke for the group after practice, expressing excitement to finally be back together on the gridiron.

"It's good, man. We got our core four back," he said with a smile. "We have been doing a lot of good things together and we are going to continue to do great things this year."

The group boasts three Pro Bowlers, and a total of seven Pro Bowl seasons in the last four years. Playing in the middle of a defense looking to improve, Orakpo expects the linebackers to set the tone.

"It's still early, we are trying to jell and fix the mistakes we had last year," he said. "But I really feel like it is going to be a good season for us. Very good.

"We got to keep working hard each and every day, keep adjusting to each other's playing styles, each and every day to contribute and have a successful season."

With Orakpo back from a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2012 season prematurely, the Redskins stand to improve their sack total, which finished 23rd in the NFL last season.

Kerrigan knows Orakpo's presence will also free him up against single blockers.

"[Orakpo is] huge in the pass rush. He's versatile," Kerrigan said. "He does well in blitz and on coverage."

Head coach Mike Shanahan noted the intensity with which Orakpo has returned to the playing field, admiring his rekindled passion for the game.

"I walked over to him yesterday and I said, 'Hey, I know what it's like to be out. When you're out, sometimes you do miss the game, don't you?' He said, 'Yeah, you really do. You realize how much you enjoy playing once you're away from it.'" Shanahan told the media. "And I said, 'I just love the way you're playing. I love your energy, your attitude.'

"You can tell that he's giving it everything he has and he's really practicing at a very high level."

Fletcher practiced fully last Thursday after rehabbing offseason ankle surgery during the first two months of offseason workouts.

Fletcher has gotten increased ribbing from teammates for his advanced age (38 in May), but turned heads when he made an athletic play on a Kirk Cousins pass, hauling it in for an interception.

That interception did not go unnoticed by his head coach, who marveled to the media about the ageless wonder in the middle of the defense.

"Anytime you've been practicing [for four weeks], you get these guys very competitive," Shanahan said. "When London intercepted that ball in that four-minute period, he was excited for the defense and rightfully so. I like guys excited, especially when you're 38 years old."

That move also did not go unnoticed by his fellow linebackers, nor did his mere presence on the field.

"It's unbelievable how he is out here in OTAs which is voluntary," Orakpo said, shaking his head. "He just had surgery, yet he is out here giving 100 percent effort, not missing a play. It just shows the leadership he has.

"If we have any young guys who aren't thinking about practicing and trying to get out of it, just look at Old Man Fletcher and see what he is out there doing."

London Fletcher, who has been a guiding force in the development of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, is an institution in the middle of the defense and someone who elevates the play of everyone around him.

"I couldn't imagine playing without him. It's even hard when he's not out here at practice," Kerrigan said. "He's able to call out plays before they happen. You can't teach that.

"He's just an awesome guy with his leadership and especially his play."

With fellow inside linebacker Perry Riley penciled in for his second full season alongside Fletcher, the group has the opportunity to play a full season alongside each other for the first time ever.

Presented with this bit of information, Orakpo smiled, saying: "I can't think of another linebacker corps as good as we are."




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