Before the Lawrence Taylor scandal broke out and consumed us all late last week, Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher was kind enough to talk to ESPNNewYork about Perry Fewell and shed light on what it will take to play middle linebacker for the Giants’ new defensive coordinator.
But Fletcher didn’t just discuss what it was like to play under his old defensive coordinator. Here are some other highlights from our talk with Fletcher, who talked about the new toys Fewell has with the Giants.
Fletcher believes the Giants' stable of pass rushers will allow Fewell’s pass defense to be even stingier than normal. Under Fewell -- who cut his teeth as a defensive backs coach under Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville and Lovie Smith in Chicago -- the Buffalo Bills finished second behind the New York Jets in pass defense and second in interceptions with 28 behind the Green Bay Packers last season.
“I think that will actually be working better to the strength of his defense,” Fletcher said of all the defensive ends the Giants have competing for playing time. “In Buffalo, they didn’t have the type of front four he will have in New York as far as pressuring the quarterback and now he gets a four-man rush and won’t necessarily have to bring pressure to blitz. He had to manufacture the blitz in Buffalo. In New York with that front four with Osi (Umenyiora), (Mathias) Kiwanuka and (Justin) Tuck, they will be able create pressure and allow him to sit back in those zones and play the pass a lot more.”
Fletcher played for Fewell in 2006 in Buffalo and says in Fewell’s scheme, the weakside linebacker and middle linebacker will play “the glory positions.” But the Giants will need to find a middle linebacker who is like Antonio Pierce, who can orchestrate the defense at all times.
“As the middle linebacker obviously you have to be an extension of the coordinator, know where everybody is at, be smart, get everybody lined up, make adjustments, make a call, understand situational football,” Fletcher said of what Fewell wants from his middle linebacker. “There are tons of responsibilities on you in his defense in terms of communicating to all 10 guys on the field and knowing what you need to do and making adjustments and be a playmaker yourself because the defense is set where the middle linebacker will make a lot of tackles.”
Fletcher thinks the Giants can find a starting middle linebacker out of Jonathan Goff, Chase Blackburn, Gerris Wilkinson, Bryan Kehl and rookie Phillip Dillard who are among the cast of many competing for Pierce’s old job. But that linebacker will have to be physical, smart, experienced and be ready to stop physical ground games to survive in the NFC East.
Fletcher says a rookie like Dillard can emerge for Fewell despite inexperience.
“If the rookie comes in and is a great talent and they can live with the growing pains that come with the rookie, and that rookie learns from his mistakes and doesn’t repeat the same mistakes, he can excel in that defense,” Fletcher said.
As for the Redskins, Fletcher believes Washington will be much improved from last season’s 4-12 debacle. Even though they are experiencing drama with Albert Haynesworth, the Redskins are eager to get the season started with head coach Mike Shanahan and new quarterback Donovan McNabb. Shanahan has brought instant credibility with his rings and players respect their new head coach.
“Obviously bringing in Coach Shanahan, the excitement and expectations have risen,” said Fletcher, who is entering his fourth season in Washington. “You are talking about a two-time back-to-back Super Bowl winning head coach. He has great respect from the guys and they know he is a great football head coach. For us, we are just extremely excited about the possibility of what we can do in the NFC East and also in the NFC in general. We feel great about our chances in competing for the division and conference championship and Super Bowl. It is definitely a different excitement here.”
And McNabb has a lot to do with that excitement. Fletcher points out that three out of the final four teams in the playoffs last year had veteran quarterbacks who led them in New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and Minnesota’s Brett Favre. The Jets were the only squad out of the four teams to make it to the conference title games with a rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez.
“He’s a big piece of what we need here,” Fletcher said. “You look at the teams that were in the Super Bowl, they were quarterback-driven teams with Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. That is definitely a big plus adding a guy with Donovan’s experience.”