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Redskins In Richmond — Linebackers

Posted Jul 18, 2014

With training camp set to begin next week, Redskins.com's Andrew Walker previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing today with the team’s linebackers.

With training camp set to begin next week, Redskins.com's Andrew Walker previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing today with the team’s linebackers.

Perhaps no other position is facing as much turnover heading into the 2014 season than the Washington Redskins’ linebacker corps.

To add much-needed depth, the team this offseason utilized both free agency and the NFL Draft to bring in four new faces for both the inside and outside linebacker groups. Many of these players are also expected to bolster the Redskins’ special teams units, which finished at or near the bottom of the NFL in several statistical categories in 2013.

ROSTER SUBTRACTION(S):
- Nick Barnett (free agent)
- London Fletcher (retired following 2013 season)
- Josh Hull (signed with New England Patriots)
- Bryan Kehl (free agent)

KEY ADDITION(S):
- Adam Hayward (free agent)
- Akeem Jordan (free agent)
- Trent Murphy (2014 NFL Draft)
- Darryl Sharpton (free agent)

CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
Perhaps the biggest question facing the Redskins’ linebackers – and the entire defense, for that matter – in 2014 is how they plan on trying to replace the leadership void left by the retirement of future Hall of Fame linebacker London Fletcher.

Fletcher came onto the scene in 1998 as an unknown, undersized linebacker from NCAA Division III John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, and made a name for himself with the St. Louis Rams, the Buffalo Bills and the Redskins, where he spent his final seven seasons.

He’d go on to set the NFL record for consecutive starts by a linebacker, and became one of six linebackers in league history with at least 35 sacks and 20 interceptions.

Perry Riley Jr. has spent the past two-and-a-half seasons starting alongside Fletcher at middle linebacker, and will try to fill in that role the best he can in 2014. In fact, Riley Jr. – who has started the last 40 Redskins games – was re-signed by the team just hours before the start of free agency this year to do just that.

Meanwhile, it appears four players, primarily, will get the chance to take Fletcher’s position in the middle of the field.

Returning from his second season-ending pectoral injury is Keenan Robinson, a young gun from the University of Texas who was seen taking many of the first-team reps alongside Riley Jr. in OTAs and minicamp. First-year head coach Jay Gruden raved about Robinson’s athleticism and his ability to cover sideline to sideline, but Robinson has to prove he can stay healthy to earn that starting job.

The next three players – Akeem Jordan, Darryl Sharpton and Adam Hayward – are veterans that were signed by the team this offseason to bolster its overall depth.

Jordan is entering his eighth year in the league, and joins the Redskins after six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and one season with the Kansas City Chiefs last year. He enters 2014 having compiled 247 tackles (202 solo), seven passes defensed, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered and one sack in 98 regular season games with 44 starts from 2007-13.

Sharpton, who is entering his fifth year, joins the Redskins in 2014 having previously appeared in 42 regular-season games with 19 starts with the Houston Texans. He is coming off a career year in which he logged 127 tackles (69 solo), including a franchise-high 19 vs. the Oakland Raiders.

Hayward, who is also entering his eighth year in the NFL, is a veteran special teams standout who appeared in 107 games with 13 starts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2007-13, where he was the special teams captain the past three seasons.

The picture at outside linebacker is much clearer for Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who will start Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan for a fourth-straight season.

Orakpo last season earned his third-career Pro Bowl selection, and is expected to make even more noise this year as he seeks a long-term deal to remain in Washington. He signed his franchise tender March 27.

Kerrigan is also looking for a career year in 2014. Playing on an injured knee for most of the season in 2013, he still was able to tie his career high with 8.5 sacks, so there’s no reason to believe he can’t increase that total this year, as the Redskins have pledged to take a more aggressive approach to the opposing quarterback.

The Redskins also used the draft to bolster the outside linebacker position this year, taking Stanford’s Trent Murphy in the second round (47th overall). Murphy has been labeled a “technician” who excelled at getting to the quarterback in college, leading the nation in sacks in 2013. He’s also well-versed in coverage, and is commonly seen staying after practice to work on his game.

Also returning this year at outside linebacker are trusty backup Rob Jackson – who re-signed with the Redskins this offseason – and Brandon Jenkins, who was injured most of the 2013 season and is eager to get back to it in training camp.

And also vying for spots at middle linebacker are Jeremy Kimbrough and Will Compton, while Adrian Robinson and Gabe Miller look to catch on at outside linebacker. All four will likely have to show their worth on special teams to make the final 53-man roster.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Don’t be surprised if Riley Jr. finishes as the NFL’s top tackler in 2014.

Last season, Riley Jr. was credited by Redskins coaches with 153 total tackles – 94 of them solo stops – with seven tackles for loss, three sacks, 18 quarterback pressures, one interception, nine pass deflections and one fumble recovery. His tackles total was eight more than Fletcher, his role model.

Riley will now be looked upon to take the lead of the linebackers in the huddle, a task for which he’s been preparing for quite some time.

Redskins coaches have raved about Riley Jr.’s talents the past few years, and, with Fletcher moving on to the retired life, the LSU product will now get his chance to shine, beginning in training camp and in the preseason.

Also, don’t underestimate the effect first-year outside linebackers coach Brian Baker will have on his unit in 2014. A technician with an old-school approach, Baker should help the veterans of the group refine their pass-rushing skills in order to get to the quarterback more often, as well as use some tough love on the younger players to quickly whip them into shape for the season.

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