The position isn’t filled -- yet -- but linebacker Keenan Robinson has a lot of what the Washington Redskins want. He’s a big guy who can run, giving the defense a needed jolt of youth and speed. What they don’t know, and won’t know for a couple of months, is whether he can be an effective starter.
For now, though, Robinson works alongside Perry Riley at the spot once manned by London Fletcher.
“It’s not second nature, I’m still learning,” Robinson said. “But it’s becoming more natural every day. The more reps I get, the more comfortable I become in the scheme.”
The plan last season was for Robinson to back up Fletcher, learn the position more, and then take over as the starter in 2014. But Robinson, for the second consecutive year, tore a pectoral muscle. He never played a down.
What helps him is that Washington did not change defenses after firing coach Mike Shanahan.
“I’m becoming more comfortable and familiar with things that I did my rookie year [in 2012],” Robinson said. “I’m drawing back to those experiences and taking what I learned then and adding it to what I’ve learned now.”
Robinson has been calling plays during organized team activities (OTAs). But that’s part of the job requirement at this position. Plus, if the Redskins didn’t have him do it during the offseason when would he learn to call the signals?
With Robinson, the focus typically centers on his speed and ability to cover. It’s important, especially with more teams having athletic tight ends. Last week, Robinson ran stride for stride downfield with Redskins tight end Jordan Reed. At 6-foot-3, Robinson can match -- or at least come close to matching -- the height of many tight ends.
“Tight ends have become game-changers,” Robinson said. “In order for a linebacker to be successful and every-down players, they have to cover guys like that.”
But stopping the run remains the primary job of this position. The Redskins added pass-rushers this offseason in Jason Hatcher and Trent Murphy to pair with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. But for the pass rush to work, the Redskins must get offenses in obvious passing situations. And that starts by stopping the run.
“Run fits are very important,” Robinson said. “I feel OK in my run fits. As the Mike [linebacker], You have to stop the run. If I’m getting to where I need to get to every play, that can allow everyone else to do their job.”
It also would allow him to win the job. But there’s a big difference between looking good in the spring and doing so in the summer and fall. Robinson, who has 11 career tackles, will still have to prove he’s better than veterans Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton.
"He's a lot further ahead than we anticipated, stamina-wise, mentally,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “The linebacker position is hard to judge in shorts. But it is exciting to see him run around, he's a very fluid athlete. He’s active in the passing game and his run fits have been outstanding. It’s going to be a great competition come training camp. We're pleased with where all those linebackers are, especially Keenan’s progress."