Washington Redskins: Seven Replacements for Rocky McIntosh
A solid and dependable performer during his five seasons in Washington, McIntosh is expected to audition for some 4-3 teams if and when free agency is allowed to begin.
Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen have taken positive steps to better equip defensive coordinator Jim Haslett with the right personnel for Year 2 of his 3-4 scheme.
In the draft, the pair selected Ryan Kerrigan to offer a rush threat opposite top pressure specialist Brian Orakpo. Next they snared hulking Clemson defensive Jarvis Jenkins to convert to a five-technique defensive end.
As important as a consistent pass rush and a stout defensive line are, the Redskins should not overlook the importance of adding more dynamism at inside linebacker.
In a 3-4 front, the inside linebackers play a vital role. The Outside linebackers are this defense's main pass rushers, so the interior 'backers assume greater pass coverage responsibility.
Inside linebackers in a 3-4 must also be strong and willing enough to take on and defeat guards in the running game. This is crucial in sealing the middle and forcing runners to the outside.
Rocky McIntosh may not have been particularly comfortable in the 3-4, but his departure would mean the Redskins losing one of their best athletes on defense.
Here are seven alternatives to McIntosh. Some candidates are already on the Redskins roster and some should merit plenty of consideration as free agent captures.
In the absence of a new labor agreement, players are considered from the current crop of potential free agents, put together under 2010 rules. System familiarity has been one of the biggest factors in choosing candidates.
Due to the lockout, the Redskins likely won't have enough time to fully acclimate a 4-3 player in the nuances of their 3-4.
7. Perry Riley
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The Redskins fourth-round selection in the 2010 draft, Perry Riley spent most of his rookie season on special teams. He would need to do a lot to prove his value to coaches as a potential starter.
The LSU alumni does have some things in his favor. At 6'0" and 242 pounds, he has decent size for the position. His youth and enthusiasm to prove himself could be a welcome addition on a Redskins defense working hard to get younger, faster and more aggressive.
The fact that Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett were willing to spend a draft pick on Riley indicates they must have observed some suitability for the 3-4 in his game.
Riley would not be a headline-grabbing choice. But the opportunity to indoctrinate a raw youngster in the fundamentals of the 3-4 from the beginning of his career, could benefit the Redskins in later years.
Perry Riley must show he can stay healthy and prove he has what it takes to start at the pro level.
6. H.B. Blades
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Comfortable with the requirements of nickel and dime packages, H.B. Blades could be a useful addition to the starting defense.
The perennial role player's speed and coverage skills would benefit the Redskins zone schemes. The presence of a player as comfortable running with receivers as Blades, would increase the number of times Jim Haslett could rush outside linebackers and also augment them with a safety blitz.
One thing that could count against Blades as an every-down inside linebacker, is his apparent lack of size. Standing only 5'10", Blades might not be best suited to the greater physical demands faced by 3-4 linebackers in the running game.
Yet it can't be forgotten that London Fletcher manages to be one of the most productive linebackers in the league with a similarly diminutive stature.
But pairing two undersized players together at the heart of the defense may create a dangerous vulnerability against power-based teams. Opposing running attacks would have a natural target.
Starting Blades would also mean that the Redskins would lose their most natural substitute should injury strike Fletcher.
5. Lorenzo Alexander
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Always willing to take on a new role, ultimate utility man Lorenzo Alexander would offer a lot of upside to the Redskins defense if moved to inside linebacker.
The 275-pound former defensive tackle may seem a little too heavy to make plays in space. But 3-4 schemes have managed to accommodate cumbersome interior 'backers. Jim Haslett know this first hand from his days working with Levon Kirkland in Pittsburgh.
Alexander's size makes him ideally suited to a plugging role, taking on offensive linemen and keeping the quicker London Fletcher free to make his customary impressive haul of tackles. This combination is similar to the kind of partners the Baltimore Ravens try to find to limit guards from attacking Ray Lewis.
Another advantage to Alexander is that his greater bulk would allow the Redskins to explore the possibility of a lighter, quicker athlete at nose tackle. A more disruptive, penetrating player at the heart of the line would increase the big-play potential of the entire defense.
Alexander's determination and hustle would be a welcome addition to a defense attempting to forge a positive new image. The special teams standout would need to prove he won't be a liability in pass coverage, particularly covering backs out of the backfield, an issue the Redskins struggled with throughout 2010.
4. Akin Ayodele, Buffalo Bills
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A swoop for Akin Ayodele would not be the kind of big-name free agency plunder many have come to expect from the Redskins. But the former Purdue star is a solid performer with a wealth of 3-4 experience.
At 6'2" and 245 pounds, Ayodele possesses good size for the position. Big and strong enough to take on blockers in the hole, Ayodele is a rugged tackler who could help shore up Washington's rush defense.
Having played in a 3-4 for the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, Ayodele would not need time to transition to the Redskins system. His 3-4 experience would be invaluable in an offseason disrupted by the lockout.
When the Buffalo Bills drafted LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard in the third round of the 2011 draft, free agent Ayodele became expendable.
Ayodele has had an up-and-down career as a starter and would have to prove he could be more than just a stop gap signing. A cheap and available option with useful scheme knowledge, Ayodele could be a smart low-key pickup for the Redskins.
3. Keyaron Fox, Pittsburgh Steelers
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An unknown quantity, Keyaron Fox has spent most of his playing time toiling away on special teams. But the career backup is an intriguing option worth consideration in the Redskins search for an inside linebacker.
Having spent the last three seasons in Pittsburgh Fox would bring extensive knowledge of the very defense the Redskins are hoping to emulate. Washington linebacker guru Lou Spanos would be familiar with Fox from his days on the Steelers staff.
As well as 3-4 experience, Fox would offer useful flexibility to Jim Haslett's defense. The former Georgia Tech product can play both inside and outside in a four-linebacker set.
Despite his limited action, Fox has also demonstrated a decent nose for the ball. He has three passes defensed, five fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one 82-yard interception return for a touchdown, since joining the Steelers.
The leap from special teams to starter would certainly present a big challenge to Fox. Yet signing a player with the knowledge of a playbook very similar to the one the Redskins are attempting to implement, could make him worth the risk.
2. Stephen Cooper, San Diego Chargers
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The San Diego Chargers face a tricky dilemma if and when free agency commences. Both the Chargers inside linebackers would be eligible for free agency under existing or old rules.
The AFC West contenders would have a difficult choice to make between retaining Stephen Cooper or Kevin Burnett to marshal 2010's No. 1-ranked defense.
The older of the two, 32-year old Cooper may be the most likely to be allowed to test the market. Cooper should merit strong consideration from the Redskins hierarchy. A savvy and instinctive linebacker, Cooper always manages to be around the football.
A keen student of the game, Cooper is able to diagnose many plays before the snap. Pairing a highly cerebral player like Cooper with the equally sharp London Fletcher, would give the Redskins a prodigious defensive brain trust in the middle of their 3-4.
If he does decide to test his value in free agency, Cooper is likely to have many suitors. Bringing him to Washington would provide the Redskins defense with a proven, high-calibre starter who would more than offset the loss of Rocky McIntosh.
1. Kevin Burnett, San Diego Chargers
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Four years younger than teammate Cooper, Kevin Burnett would require a more lucrative contract to lure him away from San Diego. But if the Redskins are going to make a big-money free agent signing, then Burnett is certainly worth the investment.
Like the other free agents on this list, Burnett's 3-4 experience means he would not have to navigate a steep learning curve in the limited amount of time left by the current work stoppage. Drafted by Bill Parcells is 2005 to aid the 3-4 revolution in Dallas, Burnett is experienced in a variety of positions.
Having begun his life in the pros as a nickel package linebacker, Burnett is excellent in coverage and has a penchant for the big play. Just ask Peyton Manning, who Burnett has twice intercepted and returned his thefts for touchdowns.
Burnett can also play outside linebacker. This versatility along with his above average speed, means Burnett could be utilised in a way similar to how the Pittsburgh Steelers deploy Lawrence Timmons.
Jim Haslett could move Burnett out of the middle and around the line of scrimmage to confuse blocking schemes and create mismatches in pass protection.
Many have pointed to the signing of a marquee defensive lineman as the priority for the Redskins defense. But in the 3-4 the linebackers are counted on to be the playmakers. Finding linebackers more comfortable with the demands of the system should not be overlooked as a pressing need.