MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 13: Reggie Bush #22 of the Miami Dolphins runs with the ball and is tackled by Perry Riley #56 of the Washington Redskins on November 13, 2011 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Redskins 20-9. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
The youth movement was in full swing for the Redskins on Sunday as Leonard Hankerson drew rave reviews for his eight-catch, 106-yard performance in a loss to the Miami Dolphins.
However in predictable fashion, disaster struck in the fourth quarter when Hankerson tore his labrum being tackled by a Miami defender.
That’s a crushing blow for a rookie who had steadily improved every week. Hankerson had finally adjusted to the mental and physical grind of the NFL only to suffer a season-ending injury in a breakout effort.
With that news, we’re left scrounging the scrapheap for a positive from Sunday’s game. Fortunately another promising young player managed to turn heads with a standout performance on Sunday.
Perry Riley made his first professional start in place of middle linebacker Rocky McIntosh, recording nine tackles. Four of those were tackles for a loss, making him the first Redskin to have that many in a game since 2001.
Riley’s stellar debut has a redemptive quality about it. The only name he made for himself last year came when he blew off reporters in the locker room following a loss to the Minnesota Vikings – after he had committed a penalty to nullify what could have been a game-winning punt return for a touchdown by Brandon Banks.
“Of course, I felt bad about it,” Riley said in a conference call with reporters hours after the loss to the Vikings. “I was thinking positive on the play. It turned out bad on my part, but that's something that I will fix. I feel terrible for the situation."
Coming into the season, the second-year pro was widely expected to step in as one of the team’s starting linebackers, but the Redskins made a last-second decision to bring back McIntosh. Riley was left to make his mark in practice and somewhere along the way caught Mike Shanahan’s eye.
“Perry’s been doing a good job in practice, especially this year,” said Mike Shanahan. “Last year, like most rookies, it takes a little while to learn our system. But he’s earned the right to show us what he can do.”
Under the radar for the first half of the season, Riley stepped into the spotlight in a big way. It wasn’t just his impressive stat line against the Dolphins, but also the recognition he showed against both the run and pass. He was frequently around the ball and rarely appeared hesitant.
“I thought Perry did a phenomenal job,” said Brian Orakpo. “Coming in, young guy getting his feet wet, getting a look towards the future – I thought he did a tremendous job.”
Riley certainly appears to be the future at middle linebacker. The McIntosh experiment hasn’t worked out and with London Fletcher on the tail end of his career, Riley’s development will be one of the focal points for the remaining seven games.
"I thought he played well,” Fletcher said. “Being a young guy getting his first start on the road – he made a lot of plays.”
Of course Riley was responsible for a bad penalty in the red zone early, but Shanahan didn’t harp on that mishap, noting that Riley made the most of his chance and displayed the same effort in the game that he had in practice.
“He took advantage of that opportunity and had a good game,” Shanahan said.