Redskins Position Breakdown: Middle Linebackers

Posted on August 06, 2014 by Sameer Malla

Finally, this week is here: the first week of Redskins football, an event that we have all been waiting for, for the past year, or since a meaningful Redskins game. Who else is excited to see our team, in the Burgundy and Gold, face off on a Thursday nighter against the New England Patriots tomorrow?

Before continuing on the Redskins position breakdown for this week, here is a list of the other positions covered during this offseason-to-date:

Quarterbacks

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Tackle

Offensive Guards and Centers

Defensive Line

Outside Linebackers


Last Friday, Bryan Frantz covered the Outside Linebacker position. Today, I will be discussing its next-door neighbor, the equally-important (and possibly more important) Middle Linebacker position that is up for grabs following the retirement of future Hall-of-Fame MLB London Fletcher earlier this year.

The Current List of Middle Linebackers on the Roster (as of 8/4/14):

Note: Players in Burgundy and Gold are predicted to make the team; Number of Tackles per Game was calculated by total number of tackles in entire career divided by the total number of games played; data pulled from Pro Football Reference

Photo Credit: Sameer Malla

2013 In Review

Last season, our MLBs were: 38 year-old London Fletcher (Starter), 25 year-old Perry Riley Jr. (Starter), 32 year-old Nick Barnett and two depth players in Bryan Kehl and William Compton. Let me just say that this position took one step backwards last year, as the two guys on the roster were aging players who have each spent at least 10 years in the NFL.

Compared to other defensive positions (defensive line and the secondary), the Middle Linebacker position was average, at best, since the defensive line was in the bottom-five in most statistical categories (according to our own, Matt Sloopa), and the defensive backs could not make a tackle; according to Football Outsiders, the Redskins were *dead-last* in the percentage of plays with a broken tackle at 8.8% (a total of 104 broken tackles), a large margin behind the second-worst in the Chicago Bears’ defense, at 7.6% (95 broken tackles).

The main concern with Fletcher, not just last season but in past seasons with the Redskins, was his ability (or lack thereof) of being able to cover the oppositions top tight end, as our outside linebackers were primarily used to either pass-rush or play zone coverage.

Third-year player Keenan Robinson, who has torn both of his pectoral muscles (right one during 2012 season; left one during training camp last year), has been one of two original Redskins MLBs (the other being Perry Riley Jr.) who have remained with the team since 2010. Both were able to absorb everything Fletcher has taught them for three seasons now, a plus to have a future HOF’er at this all-important position, as this position has to call the plays, be able to audible and change formations for the team (much like what RGIII does with the offense). And, according to Redskins Beat Reporter for the Washington Post, Liz Clarke, Robinson is expected to cover the bigger Tight Ends that Fletcher had trouble covering late in his career:


2014 Outlook

Here are two of the newest Redskin MLBs: Darryl Sharpton (#53) and Adam Hayward (#55) during Monday's practice against the Patriots

Here are two of the newest Redskin MLBs: Darryl Sharpton (#53) and Adam Hayward (#55) during Monday's practice against the Patriots

So, out goes Fletcher and Barnett (free-agent) and in comes a bevy of veterans: former Houston Texan Darryl Sharpton (fun fact: he is the second-cousin of reverend Al Sharpton); former Philadelphia Eagle Akeem Jordan and former Buccaneer Adam Hayward. All three look to fortify the MLB positon, but more importantly, boost one of the historically-worst special teams units. All three bring that ST experience that the Redskins sorely lacked a season ago. A second plus is that all three are 30 years of age or younger, which means that they all have at least a couple of seasons left in them, if not more.

Perry Riley Jr., with his experience of spelling Fletcher in past seasons, will look to be the starter heading into the first preseason game against the New England Patriots.

I asked Riley Jr. in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (a post on the now-popular social media forum where celebrities and athletes worldwide answer questions from anyone with a Reddit account) on his opinion of the signing of former Dallas Cowboy Jason Hatcher, and his response is below:

Photo Credit: Sameer Malla

Since the Redskins play a 3-4 defense (meaning, two MLB starters among the two other linebackers), the front-runner for that second spot goes to Keenan Robinson. WaPos Liz Clarke has more on Robinson replacing a legend in London Fletcher.

With the experience of Sharpton as the starting MLB for multiple seasons with the Texans, he will be the sure-fire backup to the team. The debate is if the Redskins will hold four or five MLBs on the roster, which would put the jobs of either Akeem Jordan or Adam Hayward in jeopardy. I see the Redskins carrying all five (Riley/Robinson/Sharpton/Jordan/Hayward) heading into the season opener a month from now, mainly due to the playing time for most of these guys on special teams, which is do desperately needed. The last two middle linebackers currently on the roster, Compton and Kimbrough (more about Kimbrough here), are just training camp bodies. Do not be surprised if either makes it to the Practice Squad.

Here is what Redskins.com Lead Writer and Editor Andrew Walker had to say about the three incoming middle linebackers:

"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."

I look forward to seeing a revamped Middle Linebacker core this coming season, with Robinson and Riley Jr. at the helm, starting with tomorrow night's game at home against Mr. Golden Boy (Tom Brady) and his New England Patriots.

You can follow me on Twitter at: @Skinsballr.

next up:

Redskins Player Profile: DeAngelo Hall

August 04, 2014

How the controversial veteran fits with the 2014-15 Redskins

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