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Rocky McIntosh wasn’t even supposed to be here.
The Redskins middle linebacker, a free agent, was seemingly on his way out of town over the summer after second-year linebacker Perry Riley emerged as an early favorite to start alongside London Fletcher in the middle.
The general consensus was Washington would not re-sign McIntosh since he didn’t appear to be an ideal fit in Jim Haslett’s 3-4 scheme. However, the Redskins opted to sign him to a one-year deal late in the game – early August to be exact. Training camp was already under way and McIntosh was starting to slip off the radar until his return was announced.
The lockout undoubtedly hurt Riley’s development and so McIntosh came back and quickly reclaimed the top spot on the depth chart. Four weeks into the season, he’s quietly putting together one of his best years with the team.
McIntosh leads the Redskins in tackles with 27 and also recorded a sack against Arizona. He has shown a good grasp of the defense and from all appearances could be more than a simple stopgap solution as a 3-4 middle linebacker.
It’s nice to see things click for McIntosh, who’s always been a steady player. He had 110 tackles last year but he never seemed completely at ease in the 3-4. Against St. Louis he demonstrated just how far he’s progressed by sniffing out a screen pass and coming across the field to hit Steven Jackson as the running back caught the ball for a five-yard loss.
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even expected to be part of the team’s plans in July.
McIntosh isn’t the only pleasant surprise from the first quarter of the season. Tight end Fred Davis is finally beginning to live up to the potential he flashed for half a season in 2009.
Davis has made the most of his increased playing time, catching 16 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown. Seven of his catches have gone for 20 yards or more, and he’s caught almost 73 percent of the passes thrown his way.
Chris Cooley is still a beloved figure in Washington, but it’s Davis who might be slowly supplanting him as the top tight end option. That’s not to say Cooley can’t contribute – he already has both at fullback and tight end – but Davis’ abilities make him a weapon opposing teams have to gameplan for.
What’s most impressive is how beautifully both players have handled the situation. Cooley has been one of the faces of the franchise since his arrival, but he hasn’t let Davis’s success bother him.
There’s obviously a healthy amount of competition between the two, yet it hasn’t been divisive. Players and coaches have stressed the importance of depth and the competition it breeds and tight end might be the position that best exemplifies such a philosophy.
It’s refreshing to see the Redskins make the most of their roster. They’ve even utilized some lesser-known players to perfection and many of their offseason additions have been instrumental to a 3-1 start.
Take for example Niles Paul, who has yet to register a catch but has been a stalwart on special teams and quite possibly the best run-blocking wide receiver on the team. Consider Josh Wilson, who has proven to be a significant upgrade over Carlos Rogers at cornerback.
None of these players will make national headlines, but they illustrate that the Redskins’ decision-making over the past few months yielded a team on the verge of turning the corner.
And that is a victory in and of itself.