At least three physically impressive NFC West linebackers qualify as "emerging" this season.
The Arizona Cardinals' Daryl Washington is one of them. Teammate Jay Feely called Washington a "breakout" player no one is talking about. Feely called Washington fast, powerful and well positioned for a big year.
Washington led the Cardinals in tackles with seven against San Diego on Saturday night. Four of those tackles came on rushing plays that gained six yards combined. Against the pass, Washington made tackles well downfield (after a 31-yard gain by receiver Vincent Jackson) and nearer the line of scrimmage. I've gone through each play and made the following notes:
First quarter, 7:41 on clock, first-and-10: The Chargers run Ryan Mathews up the middle. Washington moves before the snap, settling over the center and four yards off the ball. Calais Campbell prevents the left guard from reaching Washington. When the center guides Dan Williams to the side, there's a lane for Washington to charge through. Washington and outside linebacker Clark Haggans meet Mathews in the backfield for a loss.
First quarter, 5:24 on clock, first-and-10: Washington lines up in the same spot before the snap. Center Nick Hardwick and left guard Kris Dielman double-team Williams at the snap. Hardwick tumbles Washington's lower body, but does not make contact. Dielman comes off the double team and locates Washington, but he's off-balance and can't make the block. Washington sidesteps through traffic and brings down fullback Mike Tolbert following a 6-yard gain.
First quarter, 3:06 on clock, second-and-5: Washington lines up over the left tackle (weak side) and four yards off the ball. The Chargers send receiver Richard Goodman across the formation from Washington's side, as if to give him the ball on a handoff. Washington stays put. No one blocks him. He tackles Mathews for a loss.
Second quarter, 14:22 on clock, third-and-6: Philip Rivers finds Jackson open outside the right hash for a big gain up the sideline. Washington takes the best angle among several Cardinals defenders giving chase. He catches Jackson after a 31-yard gain and blasts him out of bounds with a big hit. Cornerback Patrick Peterson had slipped twice in coverage on the play.
Second quarter, 3:32 on clock, second-and-9: The Chargers had faced a first-and-20 on this drive after Hardwick essentially tackled Washington while the linebacker was shooting a gap. Officials called holding on that play. On the second-and-9 play, Washington lines up three yards off the ball and over the left tackle (weak side). He shifts over the outside of the center and creeps toward nearer the line of scrimmage before the snap. Washington diagnoses the play at the snap, dropping into coverage and tagging receiver Malcolm Floyd, who had beaten Peterson on what had to have been a quick slant. Washington hit Floyd only a moment after Floyd caught the ball for a 7-yard gain.
Second quarter, 2:51 on clock, third-and-2: This is the very next play. Washington lines up five yards off the ball and over the left tackle. Rivers is in the shotgun. Rivers throws quickly to Bryan Walters for a 5-yard gain. Washington is there and he's not happy with the result, although it's not clear what more he could have done. He pounds the grass with his hand after the play.
Third quarter, 14:20 on clock, second-and-7: Washington lines up five yards off the ball and over the left guard and fullback. The Chargers are in an offset-I formation. The men in front of Washington occupy their blockers long enough for Washington to chase down Mathews on the perimeter. Dielman tries to reach Washington but does not come close. Mathews tries to stiff-arm Washington, who strings out Mathews and forces him toward the sideline. Mathews follows up his stiff-arm with a jab to the head area. Washington slugs Mathews with a roundhouse right to the head area as Mathews' momentum carries him out of bounds. Washington throws up his arms as if to indicate he hadn't done anything against the rules. Officials throw a flag. Washington slips on the slick apron between the field and stands. Mathews seems to enjoy this, offering a wave. Referee Pete Morelli waves off the flag.
Thank you, Jay Feely, for reaching out on Washington's behalf. It was helpful watching these plays a little more closely.
As for those other two physically impressive NFC West linebackers who could be emerging? NaVorro Bowman (San Francisco 49ers) and Leroy Hill (Seattle Seahawks) were two I had in mind. Bowman is a regular starter heading into a season for the first time in his career. Hill is trying to regain his career footing after a couple rough seasons.