London Fletcher helped lead the St. Louis Rams to two Super Bowls, winning one. He has led the NFL in tackles the last five years, and he signed a five-year, $25 million contract.
But Fletcher will have some rookie-like butterflies today in his debut with the Washington Redskins, who will scrimmage the Ravens in Baltimore.
"It will be special," Fletcher said a little more than five months after he left Buffalo for Washington. "This will be my first live contact as a Redskin. I guess people will be looking at me because I'm the only new guy on the defense with the exception of [rookie safety LaRon Landry].
"More important, we have a way we want to play on defense, a way that we feel we should be playing and the Ravens are our first test," Fletcher said, hearkening back to the drop from ninth to 31st on defense last season that precipitated Washington's interest in him. "It will be a tough test. They won 13 games last year and we're at their place. It will show us where we are at this stage of training camp."
If the Ravens are the first test for the 2007 Redskins, who are coming off an ugly 5-11 season, then Baltimore's perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis serves the same function for Fletcher.
"Playing against each other over the years, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ray," Fletcher said. "He's been the standard that every middle linebacker has been judged by since his second or third year in the league. I watch his stats and watch how he plays, see if I can steal something from his game. He kept me out of a few Pro Bowls, him and [Miami's] Zach Thomas."
Indeed, both Lewis and Thomas have been selected for the Pro Bowl seven times in the last 11 seasons, the last five of which they competed with Fletcher for the AFC's two middle linebacker spots.
"I don't know Ray that well, but there is a sense of fraternity among the mike linebackers, a mutual respect because we know what it's like to be in the middle," Fletcher said. "There's two of everything on the defense except there's only one mike linebacker. It's a different animal. Off the field, guys might be different, but when you step between the lines I'm trying to get that football and whoever has it, I have to go get it."
That sounds a lot like Lewis.
"Ray is a great leader, not only for their defense but for their whole team," Fletcher said. "Guys feed off his energy, his intensity, the passion that he plays with. That jumps out at you."
While the ever-smiling Fletcher doesn't have Lewis' glaring intensity, the Redskins wouldn't have given the 32-year-old the big bucks if didn't have some leadership skills as well.
"London doesn't force his leadership, but people see how hard he plays and how much time he puts in to his work," said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, Fletcher's coach in Buffalo in 2002 and 2003.
Strong side linebacker Marcus Washington agreed: "London's a leader. If they put a new defense in, he can see the guys that don't quite totally see the ins and outs of it. He calls everybody up after practice and says 'Hey guys, let's go over this.' He takes that initiative to make sure everybody has it down."
And while Fletcher could use the Super Bowl ring he won in the 1999 season to inspire his teammates — receiver Antwaan Randle El (formerly of the Steelers) is the only other Redskins player with such gaudy hardware — he doesn't like to wear it.
"If you're constantly reminded of what you already have, you can become complacent," Fletcher said. "I like to think that I don't have a ring and I'm still fighting to get one."